Everything is in a name.

My mother and I share the same first name because of an argument my father won.

One evening my step-mother shouted down the hall for me to come to the kitchen. She used a name she thought I should have. I turned to my step-sister. “What is she doing?” I asked.

“She doesn’t like your name,” N. said.

“Well, I’m not going.”

My step-mother shouted my new name again.

“You’ll get in trouble,” N. said.

I was a 10 year old who ran from adult disapproval as if I were playing a game of tag and that adult frown were It. And my step-mother could do more than frown. “I don’t care,” I said.

N. didn’t believe this. “You better go.”

The new name again.

“No. She uses my name, then I’ll go.”

My step-mother shrieked this time. I sat on the edge of my bed, put my hands in my lap, and waited. I closed my eyes so that I wouldn’t have to see N.’s Shawn Cassidy poster.

The house was silent, and N. sat next to me.

“MARTA! I’m calling you!” Yes, I fell in love with the sound of my own name right then when her voice cracked shouting it through the house.

With the sleeve of my nightgown I rubbed my eyes so that my step-mother wouldn’t see they were wet. “Now I’ll go,” I said and stood.

N. looked up at me as if I were someone she didn’t know. “Wow,” was all she said. We are both amazed she didn’t come into our room breathing fire.

How much thought do you put into a character’s name? How do you know you’ve even found the right name? Have you ever changed a character’s name again and again frustrated that none of them work? You’ve got to get it right or the character won’t come.

What are your favorite names in fiction?

13 thoughts on “Everything is in a name.

  1. I don’t think any pictures of my tenth year survived the previously mentioned photograph massacre. In the posted picture here, I’m actually 13, and it is my Thanksgiving with mom and the boyfriend.

  2. I closed my eyes so that I wouldn’t have to see N.’s Shawn Cassidy poster.

    Love that detail.

    And the photo is almost surreal. Weren’t you just saying something about whether a photograph honestly implies events that came afterward? So why, with this photo, is it so easy to imagine the girl on the right might be a young Tippi Hedren? 🙂 The gull at the bottom might be watching the photographer, but the one swooping down from the sky is clearly intent on the girl…

  3. Thank you for letting us peek into your life. I do believe it’s that same girl who sat stoically on her bed, waiting for her right name to be called that also persists in her writing despite the odds. You know who you are, eh?

    A name is usually what comes to me first. I don’t know why. I love names, especially bizarre or funny names or maybe names that aren’t original, but they just fit. And the character blossoms out of the name. For Gilmer, I saw a street sign, and then he just appeared in a paragraph.

    I would have to think about what character names I love. The first one that pops into my mind is Uriah Heep (sp?) from a Charles Dicken’s novel. I think DAVID COPPERFIELD. He was a character I loved to hate – and the name fits him so well.

  4. I don’t know how I feel about my current novel characters’ names, but I do know that I still love my first novel (sitting unrevised in storage in NYC) main character’s name. Marguerite, named after a delicate flower, beautiful pearl, and unable to live up to the claims, he entire life has formed around that discrepancy.

    And I really don’t ever want to meet that step mother.

  5. Had we have met in our tween years we would have been fast friends. Instead, I will admire retrospectively the brave young girl with an unshakeable belief in her own identity and how she became a writer devoted to giving her characters the same strength of self whether or not they are aware their creator has blessed them with such a gift.

    You are quite intriguing and your bravery continues.

  6. JES, Tippi Hedren? Maybe–but without the glamour.

    shelli, from what I’ve read of that story, Gilmer is the perfect name for him.

    rowena, Marguerite is a beautiful name, and she sounds like a good story too,

    Shelly, I hope to be somewhere between not enough and not too much. But not dull either.

    JES, I’m glad you’ve found inspiration–though your blog seems full of ideas already.

    Sophie, Yes, I’d have been lucky to have known you back then. But I’m glad to “know” you now. Thanks for coming by here.

  7. In my blog I have to rename all the characters from my life, come up with new names that suit them and that I can remember, but that aren’t like their real names. It’s a fun exercise. I haven’t been able to rename my kids though, because I named them already and the names are so perfect.

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