Crabby Abby, Flabby Abby, Gabby Abby: What’s in a name?

images3My birth certificate reads Abagail Katherine Fabiaschi. People often ask about the unique spelling of my first name, but there’s no story there; it was just how my mom thought the world spelled Abigail. Our last name posed the greater challenge. I was raised overhearing one side of frustrating conversations with company representatives: “F like Frank, A … B as in boy, I … A … S as in Sam, C … H … I. No, not Sabiaschi, Fabiaschi. F! F! Like Frank!”

The day after my husband proposed, I remember shaking my head at the realization I’d be going from Fabiaschi to Wittnebert. There were a million reasons to marry that man, but his last name wasn’t one of them. I’m sure my children can already recite how the calls go: “W…I…T as in Tom, T as in Tom, N as in Nancy, E…B as in boy, E…R…T as in Tom. No, there’s no H after the W. No, not Wittneberg, Wittnebert, with a T!”

At least one’s given name is selected with love. It’s the damn nicknames that do damage. Abby is surprisingly malleable. I’ve been providing near constant commentary since learning to string sentences together, so Gabby Abby was always a family go-to. When I was moody as a child, this was turned into Crabby Abby. When I returned from my senior year at boarding school wider than I left, Flabby Abby.Abrn3

In college, I went by Abagail to avoid easy rhyming. That did the trick, at least socially. I still have an uncle who calls me Abby Normal, a Young Frankenstein reference insinuating I’m abnormal, which I suppose is true enough.

All this is to say, I understand how important it is to pick the right name. When it comes to bringing life to major characters, I give the name great thought. In I LIKED MY LIFE, I picked Madeline for the mother because it’s derived from Magdalene. In Aramaic it means “elevated, great, magnificent,” a description that fits Madeline’s role beautifully.

Will the reader make this obscure connection and think me clever? Certainly not, and that’s not my intent. I seek meaning in names because it helps frame who the story needs the character to be. Done right, the name serves as a reminder to the writer of the character’s essence, making it easier to catch when dialogue or action rings false. The right name gets you one step closer to turning your wooden Pinocchio character into a believable, relatable little boy.

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Abby Fabiaschi is the author of I LIKED MY LIFE (St. Martin's Press, February 2017). She and her family divide their time between Tampa, Florida and Park City, Utah. When not writing or watching the comedy show that is her children, she enjoys reading across genres, skiing, hiking, and yoga. Oh, and travel. Who doesn’t love vacation? Learn more at

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  1. “Will the reader make this obscure connection and think me clever? Certainly not, and that’s not my intent.”

    Reader feedback can be useful in this area. Someone pointed out to me that my first novel had too many characters with gender-neutral names (Sam, Terry, Nicky), and that this led to confusion. That was a very good observation, and I’ve tried to keep it in mind ever since.

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