Name Neurosis

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.


“Pronounce it properly, Malfoy…”

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.

fc324fac444d850d9ddd97400f42b520Although 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.


7 thoughts on “Name Neurosis

  1. I love the bit about the magazine! Yes, they are perfect pre-touching by someone else. Once you flip through my magazine, it’s all… worn up and used. Because I’m insane.
    I pronounced Hermione as Hermy-ohwn when I was 9, as did everyone in my year level until one day someone’s mum told us the proper pronunciation… and the real way of saying it sounding so stupid after reading 2 books the other way haha.

    • Ah yes, the new-magazine crime – let us be insane together.

      I was late to Harry Potter, largely because *clears throat* it wasn’t written when I was nine. Allegedly. So by the time I got to it, I was name obsessed and savvy. Undoubtedly, you weren’t alone in your mispronounciation of Hermione. My brother-in-law didn’t have the excuse of age and didn’t find out until he saw the films! That would have been weird 😀

  2. I know just what you mean. I get very attached to the names of my characters, particularly if they’re ones I’ve made up myself, and I find it very hard to share them (though I have done in the past, but it was a huge wrench!) I’ve spent my whole life being called by the wrong name – everyone in Ireland mixes up Sinéad and Siobhán, and I’m pretty sure everyone I know (possibly, with the exception of my husband) has called me the wrong one at least once.* It doesn’t bother me now, but it used to. And while I take your point about the ‘craft’ of creating a name, I *love* the idea of your grandfather not bothering with complicated names, and calling everyone Frank, or whatever. My only question is: how did he keep track of who was doing what as he read? 😀

    I once worked in a health centre, where once a week we had a Baby Clinic; parents would bring in their children to be vaccinated, or weighed, or checked over by a nurse, and it was my favourite day on the job. Anyway, one day, a woman brought in her son, and was asked by the manager what his name was. ‘Dylan’, she said. Spell it, instructed the manager. ‘D-I-L-L-I-O-N’, replied the mother. ‘Get yourself down to the registrar this MINUTE and get that child’s name recorded CORRECTLY!’ she was told, in no uncertain terms. I agreed, secretly, with the manager, but I don’t think I’d have been quite so forceful…

    *P.S. I’m incredibly impressed with your ability to spell Siobhán. And, believe me, sometimes even in Ireland the ability to spell Irish names correctly is a remarkable talent!

    • 🙂 My dear Grandad. I have to admit, there was something a little endearing about his technique. If the character’s name was, Hezekiah, he’d think “every time I see that name, I’m just going to call her Helen”. I guess he wouldn’t bother if the names were simple enough to read as they were or had their own diminutives. I wonder how he would have gotten on if he’d read Harry Potter?

      Interesting that people can get confused with Sinéad and Siobhán. I don’t think I’ve ever been called the wrong name (insults aside 😉 ), if anything, people tend to extend my name to Katie or Katherine and even Katelyn.

      It’s probably no surprise I’m a traditionalist when it comes to spelling names. I personally prefer ‘Dylan’ over ‘Dillion’ and ‘Georgia’ to ‘Jorja’, but I *do* feel conflicted. I can understand the desire for people to invent names or make existing names unique. On that basis, I think more people tend ask how your name is spelt these days, just in case it’s different. I also find the psychology behind names quite interesting. Why are people drawn to certain names? Do you *become* your name?

      I do love looking through the births column in the paper to see what’s new and I’ll often be the last to leave the cinema because I’m reading the names in the credits. I think I have a problem 🙂

      • I think the manager’s problem in the memory I recounted wasn’t that the mother had chosen to spell the child’s name as ‘Dillon’, but that she’d misspelled it, and added an extra ‘i’ – ‘Dillion’. The manager was trying to make sure the kid didn’t go through life with a misspelled name, and I understood where she was coming from!

        My parents had a totally different name picked for me when they were expecting me. Then, when I was finally born, they took one look and apparently decided the name they’d picked wouldn’t suit me at all and I ‘was’ a Sinéad. I still have no idea how they knew, but I’m very glad. 🙂

        And – oh my God. I read the credits after a movie, too. Usually, I’m looking for Irish-sounding names, but I’m also just nosey and interested! 😀

      • Sorry, I thought she intentionally spelt it Dillion! 😀 I’m a bit thick 🙂

        I was nearly Elizabeth, but Mum decided she didn’t much like its derivatives. Kate’s OK with me. Thanks for your comments 🙂

  3. Pingback: Beyond the Grave | Will Wally Wonder

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