Thursday, August 30, 2012

What's in a Name?

Today as I was canning peaches, I distracted myself by listening to a great Pandora station I've cultivated. It's taken hours of training my account with thumbs up and thumbs down, but I think I've finally got it (as long as it doesn't play too many songs of the same type in a row). So I was singing along with one of the many musicals I love--Wicked, Les Mis, Fiddler on the Roof, Annie Get Your Gun--and I started to wonder...

See, I was named after the main character in West Side Story--a musical my mom was cast in during high school. I grew up dancing to "America" and listening to my mom sing "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?" to me (yes, I know that's from The Sound of Music). I had numerous teachers sing a line or two of "Maria" when they called roll the first day, and even had a guy serenade me in college. And I wonder: do I like musicals because of my name? my background? or is it just who I am?

My older sister obviously also grew up in the same environment, listening to my mother's records. I haven't asked her this specifically, but I would guess while she might enjoy a live performance of Phantom of the Opera if someone gave her free tickets, I seriously doubt that she has even something as fun as "Popular" on her iPod.

As I've pondered and considered each of my characters' names for each story or book, I've wondered exactly how to name them. Do I name them after the characteristics I want them to have? Do I name them despite the characteristics I think a name would reflect? I always thought it might be cheating to name a character Egbert and then make him a scrawny, calculus nerd. Too obvious. Or name the stuck-up, materialistic girl Tiffany. It's almost perpetuating a cliche. Except...

Except that there I stood this morning, hands sticky with peach juice and singing my heart out to "Tradition" and loving every second of it--especially when it was followed with Chess, and Les Mis, and West Side Story, and Phantom, and I realized that I do live up to my name. Thanks, Mom, for setting me on my way!

What do you think about names, naming your children, naming your characters?