My daughter is about to give birth to a girl in a few short weeks. They’ve chosen the name Lola Frances. A family name. I know they put a lot of thought into this choice.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about names. Parents begin to think about names as soon as the fact is known that a baby is on the way. And then there are all those baby naming books – Amazon has almost 1500 titles of books on choosing your baby’s name. A child’s name is extremely important.
My Great Aunt Emma was a nurse during World War II. After the war she became head nurse at the VA hospital in Gulfport MS. In my childhood I spent a week with her during a few summers when she would take me to the seawall and watch the waves roll in, and we threw bread out for the seagulls to snatch up. All through elementary school, I was the only Emma. When anyone was singled out because of bad behavior, such as talking, and it was someone named Emma, it was certainly me. I wanted so to be a Kathy, or a Patty, or a Debbie. I felt I did not fit in and the only reason was that I had this old-fashioned name. Nothing against Aunt Emma, whom I was named after, but back in the 60s it just was not a common name. When I was in 7th grade, I was the only Emma still. My middle name was Maria, so I decided to be known as Maria. My report cards and school records were changed. The first time I brought home my report card for my parents to sign, my father was apalled. Who in the world is Maria? he asked. When I explained that I didn’t like the name Emma and had decided to henceforth go my the name Maria, he and I had a sit-down. He explained to me the importance of the name Emma – that it was an old family name, and I should be proud to carry this name. He told the the story of how he and my mother had decided on naming me after his Aunt Emma because of how brave and tenacious she was. Aunt Emma had died a few years before that, so his feelings for her were still tender. I decided to go back to being Emma. Now I am glad I did. It’s the 2nd most common name for baby girls these days. What happened to the Debbies and the Kathys?
Over the past few years, I studied a bit about the act of naming. When the ancient civilizations “named” something, it became their own. In biblical terms, naming was extremely important because it gave a person dominion over that which was named. Most every religious denomination has a ritual around the naming of the child. In the Episcopal Church, we say at Baptism, “Name this child.”
In my fiction writing, I struggle with the names of my characters, because a name can tell the reader a lot about the person they read about. Sometimes the name comes right to me as soon as I begin a story. Other times I have to use Joe or Sue until the character reveals himself or herself to me through the writing. Then Joe or Sue might become a unique character whose name I have never even seen or heard before. One of my protagonists is named Goodlord Fenney. I never heard of anyone by this name and have no idea where it came from. But it fits the person I have pictured in my mind’s eye.
What is the origin of your own name?
Go back to your own birth. Think about how things were then. What does your name say about you? Or, try the opposite writing prompt: You are given a different name. Whose idea is this? What is the name’s origin? How will your life be different?