06 May 2009

Embracing Names

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."
~ Juliet, Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

There are some names against which I am already biased. There are some names that have associations for me that may never be able to be broken. But I believe that a name is everything, especially in literature.

We can talk about originality all we want, but names are the most basic way by which we irrevocably tie our characters to a gender, or a nationality, or an image, or a feeling, or a persona.

Juliet, for instance, will always be a simpering, apparently brain-dead, 14-year-old girl who gets what she deserves. And, I'm even friends and colleagues with a very smart, mature, and capable Juliet. Still, "Juliet" can't escape it's association with a stupid, impulsive teenaged girl.

Another perfect example is my name, Samantha. In everything I've ever read or seen (on television or in movies), Samanthas are one of two types of people: extremely bitchy and self-centered sexoholics, or tomboyish, but kind-hearted Sams. I can't think of a single exception to this rule (but please share them with me if you have them!) — oh, except (ha!) Samantha of American Girl fame, but I strongly believe she would have grown up to be one or the other (and can make a case for both if you've got time).

What are some names that strike nerves with you? Or always seem to be associated with particular traits or stereotypes? How do you choose names when you create a character? Do you try to honor or oppose the traits typically associated with the name?

Come on, don't be shy!


KLo said...

When I was pregnant with my second daughter, my husband and I had both been teaching for three or four years. In that span of time, we had managed to experience students of pretty much every name in the baby book. Although we both taught kids that had the name we ended up going with, we were able to overlook it because it was stepdad's grandmother's name, and it meant so much to him that it made our petty little "She was such a whiner" seem small in comparison : )

beth said...

OMG! As a teacher, there are so many names that I just canNOT ever use as they are too closely associated with kids from class.

Of course, the kids who I particularly can't stand have been written into my novels before... ;)

Bailey Cole said...

Vannesa-You and I have both known Vanessa's. If they arent total tramps, they are nosy and bitter!

My sister's name-for obvious reasons. Your sister's name... same reasons.

Chris and I very much believe that certain traits are stuck to certain names. Good thing we don't have to pick any out anytime soon! Ha ha!

Miss you.