WHAT’S IN A NAME? – Rich Paschall

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 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.

Just don’t call me late for dinner.

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’s objections. 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.



Categories: Anecdote, Family, Life, Rich Paschall

Tags: , , , , ,

102 replies

  1. I enjoyed this. I get it completely. I have a rare name, I’ve only ever actually met 2 Phyllis’s in my life and chatted with 4 online. It’s not a common name and to me doesn’t engender positivity or negativity, it’s not an exciting name like Philomena or (I could name a dozen here) and doesn’t denote any connections to humour, romance, excitement or boredom or any other emotion. It’s ok, but on the whole I’d rather have had a different name. But that’s just me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The mother of a friend of mine was discussing how she named her kids–her name, she said, was one of those you couldn’t do much with, nickname wise (Anna) and she always wanted a ‘fancier’ name. So she named her oldest girl Margaret (the list for that name goes on forever) and her youngest Elizabeth. She said she could hardly wait until her youngest was old enough to pick her ‘forever’ nickname. lol. By the time she was three, this determined little girl was calling herself E-lizabeth and no one argued. Her poor mother was heartbroken. Fifty years later she still is Elizabeth.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I never liked my name — until I met the other Marilyn. Suddenly, it was a much better name.

    My mother had wanted to name me Mara, but the family objected. Mara in Hebrew and Yiddish means bitter. They didn’t like that as a girl’s name.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I really should have been called Caramel, but got stuck with Leslie. Not particularly fond of it but I found there were certain advantages if people thought I was a man. You know that old bug-a-boo it’s a man’s world? Well it really is, in a lot of cases.
    We had four children so I had the opportunity to name four people. Our daughters have bi-sexual names (like me) Simone and Renee. Renee (an electrician) actually got hired at the Toronto Transit Commission because they thought she was a man. She had to write tests and she aced them. When they brought her in for the interview they were going to turn her down when they realized she was a woman. She told them they had better hire her because she wasn’t going away until they did. So they did. We’re a bunch of feisty women and perhaps the names helped us in that regards.
    Leslie

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I’m always stumbling over new and intriguing names. Among my top choices (if I’d ever had a daughter…my own name is familiar and comfortable like an old shoe, so I probably wouldn’t change it given the chance) were: Noelle, Polly, Cheyenne… yeah my taste is all over the map..

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I have an unusual name, at least it is unusual in these parts, but I like it and wouldn’t want to change. My middle name is Eileen and kids at school sometimes asked me if they could call me Eileen instead of Vanda. I said no. I like Eileen but it’s not who I am. Mum chose it because she wanted something different and something that could not be shortened. She reckoned without Aussie kids who will try to shorten any name unless it already is short: then they want to make it longer. Nevertheless, no nickname has ever stuck.
    Mum had a younger sister called Audrey but her nickname was Bill. I think it was an inside joke.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. When particularly exasperated with my brother, my mother would say he would have turned out better if she had allowed him to be called Richard! Because our surname began with D Dad said they couldn’t call him Richard as he would become Dicky D…
    I accidentally ended up with Anna being a main character in two of my novels.
    There were always three Janets in my class, I would have liked something more exotic – now women of my generation all have names beginning with J . Or so it seems.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Once, during a very superficial stage, when asked this question, I settled on Hillary Tyne-Benson. Since then I have come to a clearer understanding of who I am and that no name change is going to change that. I like my last names. The “Brown” tames down the Dykstra and the Dykstra gives individuality to the name Brown. Judy does nothing much for either but I’ve never found a first name that feels like me any more than Judy does. Not that I’have ever felt like a Judy. Maybe my second name, Kay? But it doesn’t go with the other two. Forgottenman calls me Remi and I love that name. Remi Dykstra-Brown? Doesn’t sound right . Guess I’ll stick with the Judy. one advantage is that if there is another person with that name in the world, Google doesn’t know about it!! Enjoyed your essay, Rich. And I love your name!! It sounds like on someone would choose. Did you?

    Liked by 3 people

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