WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Would You Change Your Name? by Rich Paschall

When I finally come around to writing a short story for SERENDIPITY, I usually get stalled at the beginning when I need to decide on character names. It seems to me that the name is important and certain names will convey certain feelings to the reader.  So, I try to choose carefully.

I liked Harold for an older character because I don’t know any younger people named Harold.  Although the most famous literary character of this century so far is named Harry, I never thought of Harry Potter as a “Harold.” But he probably is.

I inadvertently used Harold twice. I wrote a story titled Alone and actually filmed it a year later, calling the only character Harold.  This did not stop me from forgetting about it and naming another older character Harold in a series of stories that started with Soup and Sandwich. Some names just seem to lend themselves to young and old, rich or poor. A lot of that is surely based on personal experience and naming trends over the years. Names go in and out of favor for newborns.

The characters of the stories are newborns to me. Most of my characters arrive full-grown, I look for age appropriate names.  For example, Richie might be alright for a boy, but a grownup would probably prefer Rich or Richard. A few folks who know me from childhood still call me Richie. I get all three versions of my name these days. I can’t escape the variations.

what's in a name

If a story has a local flavor, I try to use names that could not be mistaken for anyone I know.  Trying to think of names that don’t belong to friends or relatives can be challenging … and leave me looking up names on the Internet.

If you named a child, did you use a book of baby names?  Did you look up names on the Internet? Did you make lists of names,  then negotiate the final choice with others? Fortunately, I only have to debate with myself about my characters’ names. Right or wrong, I’ve no one to blame or congratulate but myself.

Aside from Harold, I don’t think I’ve duplicated a name, but I’ve got so many stories out there, I’m can’t say for sure. I know I’ll always have favorites tucked in the back of my mind.


In my neighborhood, there’s a family in which the father is Edgar. His son is also Edgar. Another son is Eduardo.

In this household, no one is called Ed. The younger Edgar is Eddy. The others are called by their full names. Parents get to set rules on that — at least in the home — but there’s no telling how kids will change your name once you start school. You could get a nickname that sticks. That might be good. Or not.

If there are several kids named John in your class, classmates —  even a teacher — may decide you’re Jack, Johnnie, Jay … or something else. A room with multiple Johns, Michaels, or Susans will likely trigger a round of renaming.

Did you get stuck with a nickname? Do you like it? Hate it? Don’t much care either way?

I had a cousin named George whose father was also George, so they called him Ricky. For years, I thought that was his name. No idea how they chose this name, but it stuck with him his entire life. When relatives on that side of the family called me Ricky, it drove my mother crazy. She’d point out Ricky is not my name.

Aunt Mary is called Joan. It’s her middle name. Some said they did not want to call her by her mother’s name, but no one I know called my grandmother Mary.  Her sister called her Mae. There are Roberts who became Bob or Bobby, including my father.

I know a few people who hate their name.  Some are downright upset at their parents about it. If you were named Moon Unit or Dweezil, disliking your name might not seem unreasonable. Yet, Frank Zappa’s kids stuck with those names.

The Zappa family got away with giving their kids what could optimistically be considered “unique” names. Celebrities get a pass on lots of stuff. I doubt an ordinary kid would survive such names. Most parents want to make their children feel their names are special, but sensible parents don’t want their kid’s name to make them a target.

Destiny Hope Cyrus decided she liked Miley better. She changed her name — which was already her nickname.

As for my own, I’m neutral about it. I neither love nor hate my name. It’s okay. All of its variations are fine with me, including Rick or Ricky, despite my mother and I am also okay with RJ (Richard John).

But. I hated Dick. Few dare call me that, but one friend does. He’s the only one who gets away with it. I remember all too well the years of President “Tricky Dick” Nixon. I wanted no association with that name.

Do you like your name? Would you prefer a nickname?  Did you always like your name or did you accept it over time?

If you could change your name now, to what would you change it?  Feel free to share your new name in the comments?  I might choose Ming the Merciless, Emperor of the Universe.  That had a certain ring to it when I was small, though it would be hard to fit on a business card.

16 thoughts on “WHAT’S IN A NAME?

  1. I hated my name when I was a kid. Over the years, I made peace with it. I always hoped I’d get a nickname like “Spike.” The closest I’ve gotten is the shortening of my name to “Mar” which is not much of a name, nick or otherwise. But I don’t hate my name anymore, though I’d still prefer Spike.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I never liked my given name, for four reasons:

    One), it’s heavy, kiudgy, and ubiquitous. I never found out why, but I suspect (knowing my birth mothers passion for movie stars)I was named for either Judy Holiday or Judy Garland who were big stars in that era. It also ages you immediately, the way Edna or Agnes does.

    Two)It was a very common name when I was born, like John or Robert. In my small highschool class of 28 kids, there were 20 girls. Four of them had the same name. When the teacher said “Judy” four hands went up. lol. The last time I went to the DMV they had to run a check to make sure I was who I was, since there were four of us in the same area with the exact same first and last name, and similar birth years. Enough, already.

    Three ), the misstated “Judy Judy Judy” follows me endlessly. I cannot tell you how annoying that is. har har har.

    Four). When in doubt, call her Judith. I tell people Im not tall enough to be a Judith. They laugh and call me Judith anyway. Thank you for listening. =)

    I always wanted to be Jesse or Jenny. If I had a kid she would have been called Jenny, and Im sure everyone would call her JennIfer and drive her crazy.

    I had a friend who made sure her kids were given names that they could tailor to their own preferences: Margaret went through about nine changes before she settled on Peggy, her baby sister, given the wonderful name of Elizabeth (there are nearly endless choices for that one) settled on (drum roll here) Elizabeth. At three she was insisting that that was her name, by god and you better use it. And we did.

    Marilyn, I do love the idea of Spike. It seems to fit.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I used to hate my name because it is a man’s name as well and it is even spelled in the male fashion. However, it has served me well because it has got a huge number of letters to the editor published because of that.
    Both of our daughters have male names with the French addition of an extra “e”. Our younger daughter got her present employment because they thought she was a man. When she went for the interview they were going to dismiss her but she told them – “you might as well hire me because I’m going to come back until you do”. Being an electrician she is in a male dominated profession.
    Leslie

    Liked by 1 person

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