When I discovered my brother-in-law read the entire Harry Potter series mentally pronouncing Hermione as her-me-own, I inwardly cringed. It’s a crime akin to someone casually scooping up and flipping through your pristine, untouched, brand new magazine that you’d planned to devour in a sunny window with a cup of tea and you fight the urge to snatch it back because they did not know it was perfect and you could not outwardly admit to your own weird pedantry.
Anyway. The point is – it’s a crime.
At age ten I discovered my parents’ book of baby names. When naming me, they skipped straight to the unimaginative section and if I’m honest, they probably needn’t have bothered buying it but that’s not to imply I dislike my name. It’s simple and strong, and it’s never been mispronounced or misspelt and I was the only Kate at my school. And besides, that book allowed me to discover there was something in a name – they had meanings and originated from different cultures and are founded in history, religion or mythology. It changed the way I named my fictitious characters and it became a very enjoyable part of the writing process. I loved choosing them and creating character dossiers.
I felt a degree of horror when my grandfather confessed he handled complicated names in literature by mentally replacing the ‘nonsense’ with ones like Frank or Mary. Naming characters is part of the craft of writing. To ignore the author’s choice would be like a musician methodically structuring the track sequence of their album only to discover their fans play it on random (which I actually used to do until I insulted one such musician by admitting to the habit).
My dad did his bookish thing – he observed my obsession and went to the library and loaned the best name book ever. Like EVER. It had the full etymology – names, meanings, origins, pronunciations and section of historically unusual names like an eighteenth century man called Murder. I took extensive notes and placed it on extended loan. I still create characters around names and occasionally stumble upon the old name lists I created years ago.
Although I’m usually renowned for my poor spelling and emphasising the wrong syllables, I became a bit of a names expert. Names had to be inflection-perfect and if you had an unusual name I’d unashamedly interrogate you, “So, how do you spell that? Where’s that from? Please say it again”. And then there was that one time I wrote a lady’s name before she had time to spell it for me – Siobhán looked at me like I’d performed a miracle. My own lame superpower (which would be especially lame if I lived in Ireland).
During some more recent research, I discovered an entire blog groaning with comments, arguing over the pronunciation of several names. It was like the Hermione incident in a blog feed. Opinions were strong and divided, some insisting certain elocutions be removed because they couldn’t possibly be correct – “I should know, it’s my name”.
Who’s to say I’m right? When I say William, I say wil-e-am, compared to an Australian radio announcer who says wil-yem and I attempt to convince myself that words evolve and accents influence elocution. But while I try to be open minded and casual about it, it’s like chewing on foil. I even altered my protagonist’s name in my WiP to a phonetic spelling because the thought of readers saying it incorrectly gave me the heebie-jeebies. [Readers? Shush. I know have to finish it first.]
From an even more writerly standpoint and to completely transfigure this post from a rant to an actual certifiable condition – I’m a name hoarder. It probably began with my name lists but I hadn’t quite recognised how precious I was about it until people were sharing their favourite names in their blog posts. First this post by Apprentice Never Master, and then this Sanity? Optional. Writing? Required post. And then (get this), they asked for their readers to share their favourite names too! Well. I’m not telling you that. It’s a secret. They’re my names and you can’t have them.
It’s perfectly rational until you write it down.
Does anyone else feel a little bit protective over the names they like?
Now, I must stop over-sharing.