What's in a name?

3:32 PM

Names are something that have always fascinated me. From the commonplace to the unusual, I feel that very little evokes such strong emotions as someone's name. They serve as reminders, raise feelings, and often tell us a bit more about someone (while we can't help our given names, sometimes our nicknames are clues to how we see and feel about ourselves).

I have never been a fan of very popular or common names (and for that reason, most Biblical names - sorry!), but have also been wary of ones that were strange, hard to spell, or unheard of. The names that resonated with me were classics that had fallen out of popular usage, and all seemed to ooze history, whimsy, and romance. My favorites were lengthy and sophisticated, with shorter snappy nicknames that could be used if the kid wanted a more contemporary handle. (In fact, I came up with huge lists of the ones I liked - complete with middle names - that I planned on naming my 10+ children. Now I'm definitely thinking there won't be that many... so I'll have to use the names on characters in my books instead. :P)

Growing up, I didn't like my own name. While I was fortunate not to know many of the millions of other girls born in the 80s who were named Amanda, so it didn't seem that popular, it always felt too modern, and as if it didn't belong to me. (Or rather the dreamy, ambitious, and romantic adolescent that I saw myself as. :P) I remember wishing my name was Allison for a while (although that was pretty popular), and always wanted to be named Elizabeth. The fact that my middle name was the shortened "Beth" was a great tragedy for many years. (In my mind, every "beautiful" name had to consist of at least three syllables.)

I didn't have any real nicknames growing up, and eventually resigned myself to the fact that I would be called "Amanda" for as long as I lived. It seemed a sorry thing.

And then I read this snippet from Anne of Avonlea...

"I think her parents gave her the only right and fitting name that could possibly be given her," said Anne. "If they had been so blind as to name her Elizabeth or Nellie or Muriel she must have been called Lavendar just the same, I think. It's so suggestive of sweetness and old-fashioned graces and 'silk attire.' Now, my name just smacks of bread and butter, patchwork and chores."  

"Oh, I don't think so," said Diana. "Anne seems to me real stately and like a queen. But I'd like Kerrenhappuch if it happened to be your name. I think people make their names nice or ugly just by what they are themselves. I can't bear Josie or Gertie for names now but before I knew the Pye girls I thought them real pretty."  

"That's a lovely idea, Diana," said Anne enthusiastically. "Living so that you beautify your name, even if it wasn't beautiful to begin with . . . making it stand in people's thoughts for something so lovely and pleasant that they never think of it by itself. Thank you, Diana."

This forever changed how I saw my name. Once I thought about it, I realized that a few names I had liked growing up had been "ruined" by mean or unpleasant people, and how many names that I had never been fond of became transformed by the wonderful people I'd met who bore them. It sort of makes me think of how an ordinary face can be made lovely by a beautiful interior. And, while I don't think I've done brilliantly so far, I hope like anything that one day I'll be able to turn my name into something truly beautiful.

Growing up, I was also crazy about pen names. I remember after reading about how the Bronte sisters came up with male pen names for their early work, my sisters and I did the same. (I think mine was Alfred.  :P) In my early teens I even went through a phase where I wrote under the name Amy Belle Frederickson. It was peachy.

By the time I started settling into myself as a writer, I had returned to my real, honest-to-goodness name. (Probably partly because, if I ever publish anything fantastic, I want to get full credit. ;) And I decided to use my middle name along with it. Not only because I've always liked middle names, but because two of my first "favorite" authors did the same.

Louisa May Alcott and Lucy Maud Montgomery. Their books hold the most emotions for me, pleasure and pain, and both their writing styles influenced me so much in my teen years that I don't think I'll ever be able to shake them. (Not that it's a bad thing; they're a couple of the most popular female writers ever.) I've read almost their entire works, excerpts of their diaries, visited the places they lived, and feel as if, in some special way that is not just inside my own head, we are connected.

Thus... "Amanda Beth Flynn" is how I sign my work. Forever and always, even if I get married and change my last name officially (although I'm leaning towards hypenating it... very european ;). It's who I am. And after all these years, I actually really love it.

So... what's your name? Do you like it? Do you use your middle name, or a pen name? Have you tricked people into calling you something entirely different in your everyday life? ;) I want to hear your story.


P.S. So sorry I didn't get to blog on vacation... it ended up being crazy, and honestly, I haven't done much writing since then. I think I may need a little break. (But this does not mean on any condition that you are allowed to take a break yourself - keep writing, or die!)

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