The Name Game


9781402266706_p0_v1_s260x420I’ve been thinking about names a lot lately. I’m in the early stages of a new novel, getting to know my characters, falling in love with them, giving them life. And that means giving them names.

It’s not as easy as you might think.

People react to names.  And everyone has an opinion. If Kim Kardashian was near Twitter when the name of her first born hit, she might have noticed there wasn’t a lot of love for baby North West. As I write this, monarchists are waiting for the Duchess of Cambridge to give birth to the first Prince or Princess of Cambridge.  William and Kate don’t have to worry about Twitter but they do have to follow royal protocol. No Princess Poppy or Prince Lucas for them.  (Odds are heavily weighted to Alexandra for a girl or George for a boy.)

Luckily I don’t have to follow royal protocol or pass my pick by the world via Twitter.  All I have to do is find a name that fits.  I have help – a huge, thick book of 100,001 baby names gathered from around the world. And if that doesn’t inspire me (though it usually does) I can leaf through a school annual for teen names, read the newspaper, or go grocery shopping (everybody wears name tags and for some reason I find food shopping an endless sort of inspiration).

When I find a name that’s right for a particular character, there’s usually a mental ‘click’ that tells me it’s a good fit. So when people react negatively to a name I’ve spent a long time pondering, I’m always surprised.

Case in point – the other night at dinner when I happened to mention my teen protagonist by name and a hushed silence fell over the table (a silence broken only by the belching dog at my feet but I think that had more to do with the stolen piece of chorizo he scarfed down minutes earlier than any sort of personal reaction).

The name in question was (notice the past tense) Daisy. I happen to know that one school in my city had two girls named Daisy graduate recently. Seemingly intelligent and socially active young women who, if their annual bios were any indication, are destined for great things. For a pile of reasons I decided the name was a good fit for the main character in my next YA.

According to the men in my family, I am wrong. They say Daisy works as a dog’s name, and it’s not bad for a flower either, but that is all. I turned to my refined, well-read, supportive daughter expecting validation for my choice. She shot me down with a very unrefined comment.  At this point I was curious, so I polled half a dozen other people and got the same reaction: a resounding no. (Sorry if your name is Daisy. I like it and obviously your mother does too).

Given the strongly negative reaction, however, I decided to rethink Daisy as a first name. I settled on Grace instead. And, yes, I know they’re radically different but I’m going to work with that. I think, in fact, I may give my character Daisy as a middle name. Perhaps she doesn’t like it. Or perhaps the people in her life don’t like it and insist on calling her Grace. There are a number of different ways I can go with it. I have lots of strong opinions to draw on.


6 thoughts on “The Name Game

  1. My great grandma’s name was Mildred, but she was always known as Daisy, so maybe I’m especially prejudiced, but my vote (and I’m female, so it should count as whatever number it takes to outnumber the men) is to retain Daisy. Unless it doesn’t match the character’s personality …

    1. Beth – my grandmother was Mildred and she was known as Penny! Funny how that works. The thing I found when I did my very casual poll was that even among those in my target demographic, the name didn’t draw a positive response. But I’m probably going to play with that in the novel. It’s inspired me to add a whole other level…and that’s always fun!

  2. I think maybe Daisy sounds either too old fashioned or too “Daisy-Mae” for today’s teen. Although names do cycle around, and suddenly there are girls named “Ida” and boys named “Frederick” again. I only knew a couple of Daisies in my life and they were old ladies, so that’s what the name evokes for me. But it’s way better than Mo’esha or Apple!

    1. It’s funny how everyone reacts. It’s only normal I guess. There are certain names I couldn’t use in a book because they remind me too much of friends or family. Daisy apparently is coming back – as I found when I glanced through that high school annual. But according to those I talked to, it hasn’t caught on yet!

  3. Don’t forget the very hip, very smart Daisy on “Bones” She’s a forensic scientist, almost as smart as Dr. Brennan and an ex-lover for Sweets. I think she’s the come-back Daisy as opposed to the old-lady Daisy.

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