What’s in a Name? (A companion piece)

Today on Uncommon YA, a cooperative author blog I share duties in, I have a piece about how I named one of my characters:


I decided to publish this “companion piece” on my personal blog – originally published on  my previous blog and still bearing my thoughts.

So here you go:

During rush hour on the Southern State, there isn’t much to do except stare at the back of the car in front of you.

Last week we were behind a cherry-red sports car with an engraved license-plate holder. The top of it read: “Viviana & Hugh.” There were hearts and a date at the bottom.

“I wonder how that happened,” I said to my son Michael.

“How what happened?” he asked.

“How a Viviana wound up with a Hugh,” I said.

“Why not?”

“Because a guy named Hugh is down to earth, reasonable and grounded. He might wear a little bow-tie.”

“And a Viviana?”

“Dramatic and flamboyant. A flamenco dancer would be named Viviana.”

“Who would put that on their car, anyway?”

“Viviana would. There’s no way Hugh did that, except at gunpoint.”

“Huh,” Michael said.

Shakespeare wrote:

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet.”Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

Yes. But would we think of it the same way? Names do have certain connotations. Otherwise, we would all name our children “Jack” and “Jill.” (And even those invoke images of a hill and a bucket, and tumbling after.)

Names have flavors, like ice cream.

Some are vanilla – like Hugh. Some are strawberry banana kiwi fudge – like Viviana.

You can also tell a lot about a parent by what they name their child, and you can be sure that subsequent names will be in a similar vein. Someone who names their first child “Jade” might name their second one “Ruby.” Someone who names their first offspring “James” will not be considering “Zebulun” for their next.

I went to a play once, in which brothers were names “Albert” and “Cougar.” That simply did not ring true for me. No way did the same mother name those two boys.

Consider Frank Zappa’s children: “Moon Unit” and “Dweezil.”

I named by sons “Michael Ryan” and “Casey Quinn.” We aren’t Irish. I just love Irish-style names. My mother thought I used the name “Ryan” because when I was in sixth grade I liked the soap opera “Ryan’s Hope.” Yeah, that would be a stable thing to do. (I actually met a woman in the hospital who said she had to go watch her “show” so she could choose a name for her new son.)

For the most part, people I’ve met have fit their names. How does this happen? I wonder if anyone has done a psychological study about this. Maybe our upbringings match our names, if that makes any sense. But I suspect parents raise their children in a manner consistent with our names.

But what do I know? I’m just a writer who thinks too much about these things. What’s in a name? For me, it’s the first insight into a character. As a matter of fact, Willow, the narrator of my novel Saved By the Music, first appeared in my head ranting about how much she hated her wishy-washy name. (This is related in full in my UncommonYa blog post.)

For all humans, a name is that first piece of the puzzle that makes us who we are.

For a cat who hears you calling him, it’s supper.

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