27 December 2010

#reverb10 Prompt, Day 23: New name (late)

Let's meet again, for the first time. If you could introduce yourself to strangers by another name for just one day, what would it be and why?

I don't know that I would change my name, given the opportunity. I've become sort of attached to the one I have.

I can't help but think of writers when I look at this prompt. How long do we writers spend perusing names and their meanings, looking at character personalities and biographies, trying to come up with the perfect name for a character in a story?

For writers, names seem to bring life to words on a page. With a name, a character is no longer an abstract, but a person. Writers no longer refer to this being as "my antagonist" or "my M.C.," but as "Vivi" or "Tristan." A character name changes things, doesn't it?

But naming isn't as easy as searching a baby name book until something strikes your fancy. Names are a complicated beast. There's a contradiction people encounter when discussing the idea of a name. After all, Shakespeare said, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet" (Romeo and Juliet, II.ii.1-2). Names don't make the man or woman, but everything else does. After all, with a different name, wouldn't I be the same person?

And yet, names do hold power. In Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, handmaids are given the names of the men for whom they work. The lead character's name is "Ofglen," or "of Glen." She and the other handmaids have no individual identity, but are known only by the men they serve. Taking their names was one way power was taken from them.

So where do we stand, then? Who are we with different names? With no names?

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