Tuesday, November 26, 2013

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

We adopted three cats from a local shelter, and the quest for their names was in full swing. The shelter gave them perfectly good names, but we had to re-name them. It was as if they needed to be “re-born” at their new home, and heaven help them forget who they were before, and, please, may they remember who they are now.

You can tell from my tone that I would have left their shelter-names in place, though two were kittens who will likely accept their new identities. The older cat had a name before she was found, but no one knows what it was. So everyone gets a new start at the Breens.

The discussion for who should be called what was rather revealing of the humans who dwell here. Considering that the older female wound up as Clara Schumann and one of the youngsters is now Sokolov, named after the great pianist Grigory Sokolov, you get a pretty good idea about this musical home. The felines, by the way, show little attraction to the piano when it is played, which it is, for hours, every day. But one can always hope.

The third cat got away from the classical scene with the name Monk. Our favorite television show’s detective is nothing like his name’s sake. Kitten Monk is the most social and gregarious of the bunch.

I read that William E. Boeing, who founded United Airlines, named his pet Pekingese General Motors. I don’t do revenge-naming, but I applaud a good one. Our little Monk almost seems like a sarcastic naming, but it was shortened from his shelter name, Monkey, which was a far better fit for this guy.
I’m only glad my brood does not get to name my fictional characters. I follow the Old Testament and name for qualities or themes. The Hebrew Bible has the resonance of a fable because every single name is symbolically meaningful in the original. It’s lost in translation, where, for example, the name “Ruth” no longer sounds like “companion/friend,” an allusion to her being the first convert who expressed loyalty to her adoptive family. How many would name their girls Leah if they heard the meaning, “weary/tired?” The biblical matriarch was just that. With eleven kids and being almost blind, who can blame her?

I focus, and find my way to characters’ names. Names can be trendy, and accrue connotations over the years. I think and feel my way to a name, and know when I've got it. When the name is right, the character begins to speak.

Monk, Sokolov and Clara Schumann are too busy chasing a string to be talking much.

13 comments:

  1. I agree how we name our characters really shapes the story. Even if the character is just a turkey or a mouse or a fish, the right name makes all the difference. For example, I heard somewhere that Mickey Mouse's original name was Mortimer Mouse which just doesn't have the same ring. It would be hard to sing the "Mortimer Mouse Club" song, for one thing. And Mortimer, to me, conjures up a much more serious, introspective type of rodent. Anyway, great post!

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  2. This! 'When the name is right, the character begins to speak.' That's how it is exactly for me too! Cute kitties. Monk looks like he's just full of up to no good-ness. Also, did you get the James Herriot book all safe and sound? =)

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  3. Haha I love the idea of revenge naming. Oh, the possibilities!

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  4. I'm struggling with names on this very day. I was struck with an idea for a PB yesterday and was struck to use a particular name for my main character (though I have no idea why- it just leaped into my brain and is not a very usual name for little girls these days...) but have no idea what to call the other little girl in the book or the dog... I gave them very generic names thus far... but am seriously disturbed by the lack of .... well, personality!

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  5. I had an artist friend who named all the critters in his abode...(drum roll, please)...BOB. The cat was Bob. The dogs were Bob(s). Even his boa constrictor was Bob. Go figure.

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    1. Echoes of that ditty by Dr. Seuss, about the lady who named all her children Dave. How economical... and utterly useless for story tellers.

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  6. I love this post and the glimpse into your new owners. Yes, names are wonderful. In my contemporary novel, the MC is Rebecca and you'd know why. But everything fell into place when her sister was renamed Joy.

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  7. Love the new names,I agree that when the name is right, the character begins to speak and so the animals:)

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  8. I'm uninspired to write something of value, but just wanted to tell you that I enjoyed reading your post and seeing the pictures of your kitties. I never realized how hard it was to choose names until my husband and I tried to agree on names for our children.

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  9. What cute kitties! I especially like the name Clara Schumann! That would be something if the 2 classical-named fell in love with piano music!

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  10. Love the cats' names and love that you rescued 3 of them! I use baby books and "Most Popular Baby names of year XXXX" to help me name characters.

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  11. Such lovely kitties! I'll bet they will come to love all of that piano playing over time.
    I agree with you on character names - sometimes you have to get them just right before the character will speak to you.

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