I confess. I suffer from name envy.
I’ve always wanted an unusual name, a name with character, flash, and spark, a name like Scarlett or Tess or Storm. By comparison, my name seems ordinary, bland, and run-of-the-mill. I don’t even have a nickname I like better. In fact, I don’t have a nickname at all. (Okay, sometimes my mother called me “Petunia” but along with being a flower, Petunia was Porky Pig’s girlfriend, so no way would I allow anyone else to use that nickname, especially back in elementary school.)
Family legend has it that when I was three or four, I often wouldn’t respond to my name but would insist I was someone else that day and they’d have to guess who I was before I’d do anything I was told. We didn’t have a television then, so my knowledge of names was limited to relatives, family friends, and characters in the comic section of the newspaper or in stories my grandparents read to me. It wouldn’t take long for my mother and father to guess I was Cinderella or Alice or Heidi.
My name was “borrowed” from my mother’s college roommate and most of the kids I knew had what I think of as “recycled” names. There were family names handed down along with cribs and baby carriages, and names drawn from history or the Bible. In my limited experience, the “name pool” didn’t seem to be broad or deep. I went through school with plenty of kids named Mary, Barbara, Susan, Carol, Ann, Linda, Charles, Edward, John, Michael, Richard, Roger, or Paul.
When babies were about due, friends and family offered suggestions and opinions—sometimes in loud voices. Some held out for tradition, for honoring ancestors. Some had a snobbish attitude toward anyone who tinkered with a single letter of traditional spelling, joined names together, or—heaven forbid—gave a boy’s name to a girl. Others were more adventurous.
But they were nowhere near as adventurous as parents are now. The proof is in the attendance sheets I collect when I report to high school as a substitute teacher. The names on those sheets are imaginative, unique, and fascinating. There are names that are fresh and original. There are names borrowed from other languages. There are traditional names transformed by changing the leading letter for another. And there are old favorites spelled in new ways.
At the end of a day in high school, I’m green with name envy. I want a do-over. I want a different combination of letters printed below the picture on my ID badge.
Despite that, the characters in my books tend to have traditional names: Dan, Barbara, Molly, Kate, Liz, Dave.
I like to think I’ve made an effort to name them in a way that meshes with their settings, characteristics, and the roles they play. Dan Stone, the protagonist of Hemlock Lake, finds himself in a situation that reminded me of Daniel in the den of lions. Substitute teacher Barbara Reed got her name because I could shorten it to Barb, which said something about her sarcastic take on things.
But perhaps the truth is that when it comes to names, I have no flair, no flamboyance. I also seem to lack the courage to act. I could take a new name—legally or not—but I haven’t. I’ve stuck with what I was given at birth. It may not have panache and pizzazz, but it’s the name two people who loved me decided on.
How about you? Have you always wanted another name? (If so, what is it?) Do you have a nickname you’ll admit to? Do you go wild with your characters’ names?
Leave a comment and let’s chat.
Carolyn J. Rose is the author of the Subbing isn’t for Sissies series (No Substitute for Murder, No Substitute for Money, and No Substitute for Maturity), as well as the Catskill Mountains mysteries, Hemlock Lake and Through a Yellow Wood. Other works include An Uncertain Refuge, Sea of Regret, A Place of Forgetting, and five novels written with her husband, Mike Nettleton: The Hard Karma Shuffle, The Crushed Velvet Miasma, Drum Warrior, Death at Devil’s Harbor and Deception at Devil’s Harbor.
She grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, logged two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. Her interests are reading, gardening, and NOT cooking. Website www.deadlyduomysteries.com