A rose by any other name by Deb Meredith

Deb Meredith
Deb Meredith
As I craft new characters for my books, I spend a lot of time thinking about names. We infer a lot about people because of their names, and our own names shape our sense of self and our identity.

To find the perfect name for a character, I go through baby books and phone books, and try out a variety of names for my characters before one sticks. It has to sound right on my tongue, and also look good on the page. Sometimes the name jumps out immediately—like Lydia McKenzie did for my main character in Posed for Murder. I knew it was perfect right away. And sometimes the name I pick changes who the character is altogether. In my next book, a car service driver named Emmanuel informed me that he was Jamaican, and somehow, in the process of hearing his voice, he took on a much larger role in the book then I had originally intended.

I’ve always been intrigued by people who don’t like the names they’re given, and look for a name that’s a better fit. When my brother was little, he told my mother that he wanted to change his name to Chewbacca. My mother tried her best to remember to call him Chewie, but it was pretty hard. He in no way resembled the Star Wars character, being neither tall nor fuzzy. It helped that my mother realized that what my brother really wanted was to be large and powerful, and through changing his name he hoped to somehow become the opposite of what he was: a small four year old. And he luckily he dropped the whole Chewbacca thing soon after.

Until I was five, I was called “Momo,” which means little peach in Japanese. As I learned to write my name, I only had to learn to write two letters. This was of course a lot easier then learning to write seven off the bat. But sometime around age five, I announced that I was big enough for my real name. Switching wasn’t easy, though, and I had to train everyone to call me Meredith.

I never had a nickname as an adult, although people occasionally ask if they can call me Mary (or Merry?). I usually just say that it’s not my name, and that’s the end of that. My mother originally wanted to name me Emily after my great grandmother Emma, but my father vetoed it. Instead, he found my name in the TV guide (Meredith MacRae from Petticoat Junction!).

When I got married, it never occurred to me to take my husband’s name and drop my own. For some reason it didn’t feel right. Changing my last name meant somehow changing myself, and losing part of my identity. The Thanksgiving before I got married, my future mother-in-law asked me point blank if I was changing my name. I told her no, wondering how she was going to react. She was blasé, and said she didn’t like the name either, but it was better than her maiden name! I knew then that we would get along just fine.

So would I be different with my husband’s last name or the first name Emily or with another name altogether? Would I choose to write mysteries? I enjoy asking myself that question, just like I do for the characters in my books, but I doubt I’ll ever find out (unless, of course, I decide someday to use a pseudonym).

14 Replies to “A rose by any other name by Deb Meredith”

  1. I’m addicted to the Social Security name site- you can search for names by popularity (high to low) for different years. Then there is another baby name site where you can search by meaning. Many an hour procrastinating has been spent on those sites.

  2. Chewbacca! That’s funny. Naming characters is fun – and yes, they do change.

    I suppose there will be Bristols and Trigs and Traks for a while. And Malikas and Sashas too. I took Stagliano – and have been spelling it for almost 17 years for people! Rossi was much easier. I think retaining my Italian identity made it easier to take Mark’s name. Though I’m pretty traditional that way. I would even have taken Ralph Lipshitz’ last name… Of course, he’s Ralph LAUREN! 🙂

  3. In my neighborhood, the trend is to old fashioned names–Ruby, Lola, Felix, Oscar, Max, Louisa, Chloe, etc. But I still haven’t heard of anyone naming their kids Mildred or Arnold.

  4. Great story, though it makes me want to call you Momo.

    My little-girl self was Krissy and it took a very long time to train my more senior relatives out of that habit, and some of them never learned. Of course, since I still refer to my grown-up cousin as Robbie I can’t very well complain.

  5. When I was pregnant with my kids…picking their names was frought with family discussion and poignancy…Eastern Eurpean Jews name after a dead relative…traditionally that is…I was rather traditional once upon a time…Eve Jennifer was named after my mother’s mother…Chava or Eve…Jennifer or Yenta, after my father’s mother Yenta (Yetta)…oh yes, she did not like the second name so much. But Eve…a great name. a proud name…a familiar name??? Someone once asked me where I got the name Eve from…duh…”ahhh, I think it was the second one after Adam!”…I think I said to the questioner with a look that said…what planet are you from? I think Eve likes her name..unlike my oldest son, she never tried to change it.

    Barry, much Hebrew name is Barack,(as in Barak Obama) named for my grandfather, Seth his middle name is for his maternal great grandfather…and now he is at his own request called Seth…we call him Barry/Seth.

    My youngest son…also a writer…Joshua Samuel…named for my father’s father, Yacov Schmuel…he too likes his name, for which I am forever grateful.

    I am no longer traditional, but I did name my pets with either Hebrew names or after my parents…is that so wrong???

    Now I hope Eve tells you how her kids change their names whenever they have the notion too.

    Me…I always wanted to be a Linda!!! I can’t remember why.

    Oh…can I have a tee shirt that says…Proud Mom Of A Mad Scribbling Woman?

  6. This is one of my biggest issues. When choosing the name for the main character of my WIP I used the Social Security name site and others to find popular names for girls born around the time my character would have been born. I didn’t want anything top-20, but wanted top-100…and chose Tracy, which is of course now, who she is. For Tracy’s ex-husband it was a no-brainer. His name is Richard, and is called only Richard in the book…but we all know what one of the nicknames for Richard is! My biggest quandary was Tracy’s children’s names. The names of friends popped into my head out of nowhere, and those characters grew into their names the way our real life kids grow into theirs.

    Nice post.

  7. Sometimes naming a character can feel as serious as naming a child. But yes, many kids grow up and decide to change their names. Luckily our characters are stuck with our choices and can’t argue!

  8. Wow, you guys really go into great depth to choose names. I just noodle around in my head till something feels right. Every now and then I’ll open the phone book. And ALWAYS if I hear a great name, I write it down in my files for future use…
    I totally hate my full first name and regret not having changed it when I went through the procedures to change my last name when I got married. Though embarrassingly one time I was in a conversation at a party and people were discussing names and I piped in “I HATE my real name!” and proceeded to disclose it, only to realize one of the women in the conversation had that very name…
    I just came across a last name this morning that certainly stood out when I read it…Zickefoose.
    Imagine having to spell that for everyone for the rest of your life?

  9. Aw, welcome, Eve’s mom! I wonder if my mom will ever come out of hiding and comment.

    I took my husband’s name… it’s a little cooler than my maiden name, especially for writing. Plus I get to be at the front of the line now, instead of in the middle!

    I love choosing character names. My secret weapon is the patron saints index. I try to find a relevant topic and see who’s listed.

  10. Calling Katie’s mom…come out of hiding, I know you read this…can the moms of Debs be more excited…if possible then the Debs? I know I am just beside myself (a very uncomfortable position) with joy and “nachas”. I am blatantly advertising Eve’s book (and will do so with all the Debs as I finish each book), as if you were all my daughters…and in a way, you all are…I am so filled with pride at your courage and gumption…good will… and passion for your craft. You go girl(s).

    Oh, names…well you could always name a not so nice character…for someone you wish to…well…shoot darts at. When I doodle my little stories (I doodle writing) I use names for the purpose of being snarky. Writing can be very good medicine as I believe you well know.

    I hope you ladies do not mind the ramblings of a proud mother, I hope someday I meet you all. Stay writing and stay healthy.

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