Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Names can be dreadful things -

I do not mean in the sense of the African tribe who name their children the most dreadful things in the belief that it keeps the evil spirits away but in the sense that a name can mark you for life.
I started thinking about this because of a piece in yesterday's paper. It rather got in the way of my thinking about other, more important things yesterday. I intended to do some mental writing as I pedalled up the little hill yesterday morning but I went on thinking about names.
There is the chapter in "Sun on the Stubble" where Colin Thiele talks about Bruno's woes because of his names, "Bruno Untermeyer Gunther" aka as Bugsie. Untermeyer is a family name. The boy does not have a chance. He is Bugsie.
Then there was the man I once met who had been christened Sean. It is a fine Irish name - until you put it with Lamb. At that point it becomes ridiculous. When Sean reached his majority he changed his name by deed poll to something much less ridiculous. His parents did not get the inheritance they were hoping for. Rightly so too.
But the newspaper article was also disturbing. It was about the trend to give a child just one name - and to give that name an unusual spelling. It instantly reminded me of someone else I know. Her name is simply Sue. She is not even Susan. She has no second name. When she was born her mother chose Sue. Asked about it her mother simply says, "So what? I can't be bothered with names. That's all she needs - something to be called at school." Is it a reflection of the way she views her child as well? I know the child wishes for more. She thinks it is not even a "proper" name - that her mother simply did not care.
In his books about the Callendar family John Verney called two of the characters "Friday" and "February". They have apparently learned to live with the names but February does comment on them. Whether this would be so outside the pages of fiction I do not know. His choice of names helps to characterise the family and make the characters especially memorable.
When I write something the names of the characters sometimes choose themselves in that I may not particularly like the name or, indeed, like it at all. The name however will be right for that character. It appears on the page and it is the one that needs to be used. If I try to use something else it will not work. The character will change personality. I wonder how real authors, the sort who get real books published, choose the names of their characters? Does it just happen? Do they set out with a book of names? Is it something they like or dislike?
How do parents choose names that are not family names? How do they choose the spelling? There are thick books of advice out there. Dunkling's book on names makes fascinating reading but it does not explain 'how' although the 'why' sometimes gets hinted at. It can all make a great difference to a child and the sort of person they grow up to be. I do not think parents realise that, even when they think they do.
Do Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily and Peaches bless or curse their parents for their names? I suspect the latter.

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