Friday, February 17, 2012

What's in a Name?

For many years—and many books—I’ve had the pleasure of naming characters. It’s sort of like the appetizer of the writing process, at least for me. It’s something I do early on, when I’m still conjuring up what the story’s about. And it’s fun, too. What’s better than picking the perfect moniker for your protagonist and the entire cast surrounding her?

I’ve never plundered a phone book or a book of baby names (although I know other writers who rely on them). The right names always seem to appear magically. Almost as if the characters name themselves.

But before this pregnancy, I never had the opportunity to name a real person. Oh, I’ve named plenty of cats (fur-babies, I call them). But human kids? Nope. Not until a week or so ago when we found out the sex of our child on the anatomy scan (it’s a girl!).

Like many women on the planet, I had favorite names stuck in my brain. It’s so wonderful that now I can actually use my most favorite of all: Emily. Pretty, huh? And her middle name will be Alice, after Ed’s mom. Emily Alice. How nicely it rolls off the tongue!

I’ve already had a friend remark what a good old-fashioned name that is, and I told her that old-fashioned was back in style. Anyone else watch “Tori & Dean?” They named their daughters Stella and Hattie.

Tori and Dean aside, most celebrities don’t seem to go for anything usual. Take Jerry Seinfeld and his wife Jessica who named one of their children “Shepherd.” I remember at the time someone on “The Today Show” remarked that, in Hebrew, “Shepherd” meant “Yes, please, I’d love a wedgie.”

Rob Morrow from the TV show “Numbers” has a child named Tu Morrow. Get it? I’m envisioning her playing the lead in a Broadway production of “Annie” one of these days.

The Naked Chef Jamie Oliver and his wife must’ve gotten into the cooking sherry when they stuck a daughter with “Daisy Boo.” Their other child, “Poppy Honey,” was likely inspired by a salad dressing.

Does anyone know who Shannyn Sossaman is? She’s supposedly an actress, but I have a feeling she got more press from the announcement that she’d named her baby “Audio Science.” My bet was on “Compact Disc,” so I lost about fifty bucks on that one.

Of course, there’s always Apple Martin, daughter of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin. I heard they really wanted to call her “Apple Martini,” but they were just one letter shy. Dang it. I hate when that happens. A good alternative would’ve been “Doc Martin,” but did they listen to me? Nooooo.

Bob Geldof of “Live Aid” fame and his wife Paula Yates might have chugging apple martinis when they came up with these doozies for their darlings: Fifi Trixibelle, Peaches Honeyblossom, and Little Pixie. You have to wonder how those kids felt when their teachers called their names to check them into class.

A recent study showed that kids with the easiest names to pronounce are more likely to succeed in life. I can see how that could be helpful.

Sometimes I think George Foreman had it right. Just name every kid “George,” and you’ll make it easy on everyone. Although you have to wonder what happens at Thanksgiving dinner when someone says, "Hey, George, pass the gravy!" Do they all dive for the gravy boat at once?

P.S. For more on celebrity baby names, check out this page on the Babyfit web site.


  1. Emily Alice is a lovely name! And how lucky she is in her parents. I was named Margaret after my grandmother and mother but recently found out that my mother wanted to name me Alison, which coincidentally, is the name of my protagonist and some would say alter ego. Weird, right? I have an unusually named daughter but her name is derived from Latin so it doesn't approach the weirdness of Tu, Pixie, and the like. Can't wait to meet Emily Alice, Susan! Maggie

  2. Someone named their kid Moon Zappa, too, right?

    I think Emily Alice is a beautiful name. So sweet! Though, I must confess, I had a fondness for Peapod.

  3. Laura, yes, there's Moon Unit Zappa and her bro, Dweezil. Remember when Moon had the hit, "Valley Girl?" Ah, Hollywood kids! ;-) I also have a fondness for Peapod. So I have a feeling Emily will sometimes get called that, too. :-)

    Maggie, my mother thought I was going to be a boy (um, she seems to do that a lot, doesn't she?). So I was going to be named Steven. Good thing Susan worked, too. Dea is an adorable name, and it's the name of one of your BFFs. So that makes it all the more special! I can't wait to meet Emily Alice, too! Right now, I'm content to feel her wiggle. :-D

  4. I think Emily Alice is perfect, Susan! I also agree that name shopping for characters is one of the bonus perks of writing a book! Names do seem to snap into place, almost as if they were always there, and we, the authors, just needed to ask, "BTW, what did you say your name was?" Interestingly, for me, it's those pesky incidental characters whose names can change a half dozen times while in progress! But the BIG ones, characters or real, like Emily Alice, tend to stick.

  5. Thanks, Laura! I think Emily Alice is perfect, too (although my mother has said, "I'm going to call her Pattycakes," since my mom's name is Patricia--think she's a little miffed?). ;-) Just saw that Jason Bateman and his wife named their new little girl Maple Sylvie. Very interesting. I'm wondering if they were going for "Mabel" then had some really good pancakes the morning they filled out the birth certificate. Hmmm.

  6. Naming our daughter was easy...we'd had the girl's name though 4 boys before Lezlie was born! The Joann was a compromise of my Jo and his Ann.
    I was named after my mother, Helen Mary. So she was always Helen and I was Mary. No problem until I was grown. Insurance companies always want actual first names.

  7. I love the name Helen Mary! My maternal grandmother was Helen and my mom's sister is Mary. They go well together! My sister was named Mary Katherine after my aunt Mary and my great-grandmother. Though my folks always called her Molly. She's had a heck of a time with legal stuff because her name isn't legally Molly. So I can understand your insurance company conundrum. ;-) Ah, names! They can be so simple yet tricky.

  8. Firstly, congratulations on the pregnancy and the fun of finding out you are having a little girl! I love the name Emily and the name Alice sounds lovely with it. I have only had the pleasure of naming fur babies myself, but I must say that as a writer choosing your characters names must be a blast. It does affect who they are, just as you said that children with more traditional names tend to fare better in life. If you have a character with an outrageous name you expect them to be a little "out there" while if you named your main character Jane you might expect her to be more mousy.

    Thanks for a fun post and keep us updated on Emily Alice and yourself!

  9. Thanks, Maureen! You're right, if there's a character with an outrageous name, we expect them to be outrageous...and I'd probably expect that of an outrageously named person, too! It is a lot of fun to name characters. Once you know who they are, you can't imagine them being called anything else. I will keep you posted on Emily! She's practically all I can talk about these days anyway. ;-)

  10. I looked at the link, and I gotta tell you, I love The name, Emily Alice!

  11. My eldest grandson named his girls Emily and Olivia. (They're young teens), son is Ethan.

    Another of my grandson's named is new boy, Julius. (Talk about old-fashioned names.) He also has a girl, Kay'Lee and yest that's how it's spelled.

    Another great-grandaughter is Peyton (all I could think of is Peyton Place, the book) but I see there are lots of them these days, her brother is Garrett.

    One great-granddaughter was named Carolyn because her brother said that who she was when she was in the womb.

    I could go on, but I'd fill the page.


  12. Aw, thanks, Lil! It's funny that we had a girl's name picked out before we knew she was a girl...but we were wavering on a couple of boy's names. So it worked out perfectly! :-)

    Marilyn, I have to say that I love the sound of Emily, Olivia, and Ethan. All are among my favorites! Yes, Peyton makes me think of Peyton Place, too, but it's a cute name for a girl. It's so fun to yak about names and where they came from, and how so many babies (and characters in books!) seem to name themselves. I could talk endlessly about it!

  13. need to say you did a great job and i really appreciate