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An Occasional Post

On names

On Names

Choosing names for fictional characters is a big deal. You all know this. It can take forever, or it can be a lightning flash. Names have so much power. They have associations, connotations, actual meanings, metaphorical possibilities, sound, history, and all the rest.

Writing with the wrong name can stall me, but it is also true that changing a name in the middle of a project can be impossible. I have already formed a picture of the character with the name; a different name might be a different character.

There are tons of online sources for names—and these days, people are making them up in record numbers. Neveah? Search by ethnicity, number of syllables, first letter, popularity, whatever.

My favorite site is, of all places, the Social Security Administration, which provides US baby names by year and is searchable. Want a common name from the 1950s or 1990s? Go here and have fun: http://www.socialsecurity.gov/OACT/babynames/

I am the only person in the United States with my name, and I have often wondered what my parents were thinking. The mythological Leda (if you’ve missed this fact) was the mother of Helen of Troy; she was raped by Zeus in the form of a swan and ‘brought forth’ two eggs. One contained Helen and Clytemnestra; the other Castor and Pollux.

My middle name is Deirdre. Deirdre, in Irish mythology, was the princess of sorrow, a tragic heroine. Yeats, Synge, and James Stephens wrote about her, and I read it all.

The gifted Franz Schubert, one of the greatest composers of all time, died at 33, probably of syphilis.

So Leda Deirdre Schubert is a fairly weighty name for a person who is only 5 feet tall (we will not discuss width at this time) and shrinking as we speak.

I bet many of you have experiences you can post about names, and I’d love to hear them. Please comment. My main purpose here, however, is to talk about the metamorphosis of dog names. My own dogs. Their names. I’ve been thinking about this all day.

I’ve had nine dogs. I’ve been lucky (so far, cross fingers) that they have all, with the exception of my first, lived long and healthy (until the end) lives. Their names, in order:

Franz (Schubert. I was nine.). A Beagle.

Juno, (mythology), a German Shepherd.

Quillow, a Great Pyrenees (if you haven’t read The Great Quillow, by James Thurber, get thee to a bookstore).

Ebenezer (Cooke, from The Sot Weed Factor), another Great Pyrenees.

Pignolia (don’t ask), a Shepherd/Retriever mix.

Smee (Peter Pan), misbegotten child of Pignolia and Ebenezer.

Winnie (the-Pooh), a Newfie/St. Bernard mix, the star of her own books.

Pogo (Walt Kelly’s Pogo), a goldendoodle (mutt, in other words), still seeking stardom.

Pippa (where? Pippa Passes?), also a goldendoodle (mutt).

Winnie’s name morphed regularly during her 13 years on earth: Winnie, Winnie-Binnie, Beanie, Ween-Bean, Bean-dog, Beanstalk, Winnie-Baninnie, Pooh, Winnie-girl.

Pogo has stayed either Pogo, Pogey, or Pogey-Wogey. He is quite dignified.

Pippa? It gets complicated. Pippa, Pippi, Pipsy, Pipsqueak, Pipsy-doodle, Pipsy-doodle-bug, Doodle, Bug, Doo, Boo, Doodah, Pippi-doo, Little Person.

No wonder I can’t train my dogs. They never know what their names are.

More on names next time, whenever that is.

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