Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Guest Post: A Child By Any Other Name

Thanks to Patti for answering my call for guest posts! Enjoy.

A Child by Any Other Name…
By P.I. Barrington

Finding the right name for someone whether it’s a fictional character or your own newborn can seem like a daunting task. Some people pick favorite names from before the time they can even think about having children. I used to do the same thing. That is, until I became a writer. That’s when any dreams I might have had about my beloved favorite names coming to life shattered like so many crystal champagne glasses unfortunate enough to be located within the vicinity of a toddler.
My characters many times leap right off the page screaming their names at me and waving what look like dangerous rolling pins. They will have the names they want no matter what I, their creator, decide. Sometimes I’ll be pounding away at a story and suddenly realize the name I’ve typed over and over is what that character wanted to be called instead of the name I wanted to use. Many times, my characters will surprise me by using ethnically oriented names that leave no doubt as to what race they are. And, yes, I describe these characters in present tense. They won’t allow anything else.
Names are important in human life, obviously, and for obvious reasons. That is the single most important identifying reference to you not only by yourself but by everyone else. It also is one of the oldest practices in human communications. Have you ever watched those old movies where two people of differing cultures or languages try to communicate? The first thing they do is point to themselves and say their name. Names are the beginning form of communications.
So, it’s no wonder parents go through a similar type of experience that writers do. Some parents will go to sometimes ridiculously extreme measures to find the appropriate name for their child. And this is no joke, my readers.
Here in Southern California, (and only in California) there is a new type of job that has been developed to “help” new parents or parents-to-be choose exactly the name that will portent success, fame, or character of their coming child. “Nameology” and “Nameologists” have now cropped up in this very lucrative trade.
For $300 an hour, the Nameologist will come to your home, office, or other meeting place of your choice and explain or suggest baby names to you.
Personally, I find this rather insulting. To me, this indicates that one is incapable of going out and buying an actual book of baby names for under $5 and choosing for oneself or with much more ease, search the Internet which has virtually an unlimited amount of free baby names sites with every conceivable name, its meaning, and country of origin. Not only that, but there are no apparent requirements to become a Nameologist other than being able to read any of the above name-helping suggestions. Oh, and the gall to charge $300.
The only thing more disturbing than that is the fact that there are parents who have actually paid the $300!
So, how does one pick out the perfect name? Well, rhythm and rhyme have a lot to do with it. The names have to sound good and have a natural cadence. “Annie Ralph Curmudgeon” may have a rhythm to it but you have to admit it’s not the prettiest or most portentous of names. And please, I beg you all future parents, resist the urge to give ridiculous names to your children! This not only makes life miserable for the child who has to deal with playground mockery and derision but it makes everyone else uncomfortable when having to use it in serious situations. I know you probably are rolling your eyes at this age-old warning, but I’ve still met enough people whose parents gave them the worst, corniest names in an effort to be witty.
“Hello? Yes, may I speak with Iva Payne?” Imagine yourself having to explain to the irritated operator that no, it’s not a joke. In fact, please imagine yourself saying your child’s future name over the phone just to make sure. My sister once had a friend who thought it was funny when giving a name for the waiting list in restaurants to use the last name of Krayzee. So when the host or hostess called out the name of the party, it would sound something like this:
“Krayzee party of four, Krayzee, party of four, your table is ready!” (Sound it out if you must!)
This is the type of thing that should be avoided. At all costs.
What I have done over the long, long years of working at being a writer, is to search thrift stores and used book stores for the rare “Unusual Names for Baby” type books, just to have on-hand should I ever be without the Web while scratching out character descriptions by hand. Some of us do still practice longhand. And sometimes, not only is it just nice to have a hard copy reference of names to look at while curled up in bed, but also to be a little more green about it. Why use up paper printing all those name lists, when you can find for pennies, already printed copies of the same basic lists? Save a tree if you can!
You can devise any system of naming you want. Go ahead and be creative! Come up with your own original plan of choosing names. However you do it, just make sure it’s a name you and your child will like if not downright love!

Check out P.I Barrington's funny urban fantasy story: Urban Elf coming in BewilderingStories.com Issue #268. If you like cities and Elves, this is for you!

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