Names, names, names

I think a lot about names. My parents named me after both grandfathers, which means I wound up sharing my first name with my father, paternal grandfather, paternal great-uncle, and a second cousin, all of whom lived in or very near the small town where I was born. It wasn’t until I was in my early teens that I realized I shared a first name with the cousin, since he had gone by his middle name since before I was born.

So when I got tired of people calling me, variously, Pauleugene (as if my first and middle name was actually one name), or Little Paul, or Paulie (seriously!), I started asking people to call me by a shortened version of my middle name. Eventually I legally changed my name, so Gene is my real first name.

My Aunt Silly (I’ve called her that since I was a toddler) was named after her grandmother (my great-grandmother, the one who taught me how to make egg noodles from scratch), Minnie. But she was teased so badly in school herself, that she started going by her middle name, Mae.

My Uncle Joe had been named after his father, George, but never used his first name.

The cousin I often refer to as my almost twin (born 8 days apart, same docter delivered us, were often babysat together, prompting strangers to ask if we were twins) was named after our grandma, Gertrude. Except she wasn’t. Her mother, my Aunt Silly, was sensitive to how out-of-fashion names can make childhood miserable, so her first name on the birth certificate is Trudi. Funny how Gertrude is an unwanted name, but one of its diminutives isn’t, eh?

Her youngest brother was named after a great grandfather and a great uncle, but has been called Chip since before he could talk. In fact, in his late teens when his then-girlfriend forced him to buy a more serious birthday card for his mother and sign it with his “real” name, Aunt Silly opened the card, read it, frowned deeply, then looked around at all of us and asked, “Who the heck is William?” While the rest of us were laughing uproariously, he simply turned to the girlfriend and said, “I told you so.”

Names go in and out of fashion for many reasons, some mysterious, others not. Names carry all sorts of emotional baggage. If I mention my cousin Chip in a conversation with strangers, it evokes a completely different image than if I referred to him as my cousin Will, or cousin Billy, or cousin William.

Which is why sometimes choosing a name for a character can be so hard. The spectral servant of the evil necromancer, who comes across in most scenes as an overly obsesqious butler, was obviously Jerome, rather than Mike or John, for example. Or the suave former spy who works for the enigmatic crime boss, Mr Black, is obviously a Sophia, rather than a Mary or Saffie.

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