I was watching my youtube subscriptions today, which really only includes the Vlogbrothers. Yes, folks, I am a Nerdfighter. And I have a stupid little author-crush on John Green. This is partly because he’s a little geeky, has fun hair, and mostly because he’s totally unavailable. Don’t you judge me.
So this week, he responded to a vlog survey in which one of the questions would be “What would you name your kids?” He answered Gatsby, though his wife had enough sense to direct him to Henry (which is a surprisingly cute name for a toddler). And while I don’t intend to have children, I am rather obsessed with names. Character names, specifically, but I find the names real people are given are sometimes even crazier than ones I would give an imaginary character. Either way, curiously, the bestowment lasts a lifetime.
I have characters I can place in my life twenty years ago at age fifteen. I wrote over a hundred pages (and that might have been single-spaced, I’d have to look) of a story I had in my head during my sophomore year of high school. I wrote during study hall, mostly, when I could get to the quiet of the library. I carried it around in a pink binder with lots of stickers and some notes written in it from some of my friends. The two main characters were Nathan Rondeau and a girl named Chelsea (which I spelled it Chelsae because I just didn’t know, I was 15, I liked it better that way even when I found out the truth). There was also a Billy and a Mike, and a Tam (short for Tamara). I’d have to look up Chelsea’s twin sister’s name, which is sad because that poor girl totally got the short end of the stick. And now I (God, to her) can’t even remember her name.
And now none of my other characters will likely ever be called Nathan, because that, to me, is who Nathan is. He is a descendant of a line going back to Atlantis, around the world, and back again. His child suffers from a fiery temperament and a divorce, has a son named Jordan who marries someone (Alana) from the repopulated fragment of Atlantis against her mother’s wishes and they go into hiding together.
I screwed up a lot of lives in this epic idea. But the story as I wrote it was only about Nathan, though I had some down about Jordan and Alana. Most of my work was epic genealogies and notes and a brain bursting with ideas. Did I mention the protector race of white tigers? Yeah, I was fifteen.
But knowing that this name with stick with a character whether I get anywhere with the story or not makes me quite crazy about giving them the right names in the first place. Which brings me to Ethne’s story. Hers is the story I wrote for NaNoWriMo in 2010. Her character had evolved out of nothing and eventually usurped a character named Patrice in a short story I wrote in college. I had lukewarm feelings for Patrice, hastily conceived and named, no real strong convictions, so it was just as well for her to fade away. Ethne, however, is instantly recognizable in my mind. I can see her when I say the name to myself. I’d heard the name in The Four Feathers, a classic book (though I admit my familiarity with it is because it was a Heath Ledger movie). The name is a form of Athene, or Athena, but I’ve come to prefer the letter E over A these last few years. (Age teens and 20s had characters Alana and Annaliese, mind.)
Ethne’s name, once the character had grown, was glued on. The problem was figuring out her ghostly boyfriend’s name. It was a super freaking mess trying to pin down his name. It was like the bastard was teasing me, not telling me, or saying, “Guess. It starts with…. J.” And I would guess, “Jeremy. No, too Pearl Jam. Hmm. Jeremiah? No, too long, would call you Jer, and that’s too close to Jerry. Definitely not.” And that asshole would just grin and taunt and smirk because he had a name I’d never heard of. And then I heard of it! There’s a computer guy in the NaNoWriMo office named Jezra. I saw it on the site one day when they were introducing the gang or something, and absolutely had my lightbulb moment. Rumplestiltskin! Ah ha!
Jezra sulked a bit that his game was over. And just so you don’t think he has extremely unlikely parents, it’s his gothy take on a nickname for his longer one, Jeremiah Zachariah, which is a mouthful for a little kid. As for the breathing Jezra, I don’t know what his deal is. Maybe his parents mis-overheard it at a bowling alley like a Krisha I know. Or maybe they thought it sounded vaguely Biblical, like a weird combo of Jael and Ezra. Or maybe they just liked the letters J and Z, like Brangelina likes the letter X.
I have one character I haven’t named yet, who has been in my head for several years but I can’t pin him down either. He’s not taunting like Jezra was. He’s more so boring that nothing sticks to him; it just falls off like a glob of thrown oatmeal. And I think that’s why I have had a problem with him. I shouldn’t think one of my own characters is so boring that he can’t even be bothered to be named. What does that say for the story? The only name that has stuck so far is David, which is a perfectly respectable name, though rather dull. Especially when his love interest would be named Blythe-and-bonny in a rather obnoxious tribute by her mother to Shakespeare. She goes by Bly or Blythe.
I will grant that I go a bit crazy on the names. When writing urban fantasy, or especially regular fantasy, sometimes you have a little more leeway to pick a name that’s much more interesting. Still, I want it to be memorable and hopefully not annoying. (Like Wrath and Vishous (sic(k)) and that would a whole other extremely negative post that I’ll try to ignore because it works me up like the impossibility of time travel.)
Mostly, I try to be at least original in my own head. It’s a comfort knowing that Diego and Annaliese and Galen will always be themselves, and Rick will always be short for Dietrick and not for Richard. There will not be another character infringing on the nomenclature of another. Too confusing. And even Michael and Alex are spoken for. (I had such an affinity for the name Alexander back in the day, I would have named someone Alex in every story. And Nicholas, though no Nicks currently exist.) I could talk about names for another thousand words, but my point is past made.
And should I ever deign to actually procreate, as if I had attention enough for a real child with such ever-increasing numbers of people who count on me for their very existence in my brain, she would be named Emily, he would be named Jimmy (James).