I hope everyone is enjoying the holidays. We celebrated Christmas a bit early at our house. My husband and I gifted each other with a tiny bundle of joy we’ve named John Robie. Yes, we adopted a kitten. A soft, snuggly, purry, cuddly little fellow who, as it turned out, came to us with a urinary tract infection. The vet has him on antibiotics and probiotics (took me a bit, but yes, they really are both necessary), and here we are a week later.
Robie is a terror—cute as hell, but this little fellow has Bad Boy written all over him. He’s a climber, determined to be on the highest possible perch in any room. I’ve even caught him trying to scale the walls, so far with limited success. Very limited. But he keeps bouncing back, shakes it off and leaps on the nearest cat toy.
I find his climbing behavior, bad boy tendencies, his passion for playing in water and his sweet angelic face all live up to his namesake. Robie is named after the character John Robie, aka The Cat, as played by Cary Grant in the Alfred Hitchcock classic To Catch A Thief. Mind you, it took us two days to name him. We were tossing out all sorts of names, then looking at him as if we’d be able to see whether the name fit. Actually, it was less a matter of size or length and more a matter of style.
Which got me thinking about character names in general. I mean, could Margaret Mitchell have made Scarlett O’Hara any Scarlett-ier? Could Severus Snape be any Snape-ier? Don’t we love Percy Blakeney’s foppishness as much as we love The Scarlet Pimpernel’s courage?
In Hollywood, some of the silver screen’s most famous actors and actresses were born with names we would never recognize. Judy Garland was born as Frances Ethel Gumm. Norma Jeane Mortensen became Marilyn Monroe. And a young runaway juggler named Archie Leach became Cary Grant. Did these stars become any more talented because of their name change? No. These names were more melodic to the ear, easier to pronounce and spell, and dang easy to remember.
Auto executives and marketing professionals spend millions on developing names for cars. The Tahoe. The Neon. The Leaf. Each name brings expectations with it.
So, it’s natural, as an author, that I agonize in the same way over naming characters. I can get tripped up over a secondary character’s name and not write for days. I’m one of those writers who has to know a character’s name before I can write in his or her voice. I’ve got baby name books to guide me and thank heavens for the Internet.
I even went through a phase in my rebellious teens where I hated my own name. I suppose I could have changed it when I started publishing. But during the past twenty years, I’ve come to accept that I’m Amy. In fact, when I married, I never even changed my maiden name. It was somehow very important to me not to change the name I’d been born with. I don’t think my name is very “cool,” but I do think it suits me. Or maybe I’ve just grown to suit it.
How about you? Did you ever wish you had a different name? Or is there a character from a book or movie you felt had a totally wrong name?