What’s in a name?

28 Sep

That which we call a rose  by any other name would smell as sweet. William Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet

Is this true? I’m not sure. I think names are very much part of who we are. I cannot imagine myself with a name other than my own. I would not be myself had my mother named me Carla Romina, as she almost did. Thank goodness she didn’t, not that the name isn’t pretty, but I am not a Carla, and definitely not a Romina.

I have been thinking of the meaning of names, and doing a sort of word association exercise with the names of characters in my favorite books. Some authors are very good at choosing (or making up) names that seem appropriate for the characters that bear them, either because of their personalities or due to the roles they play in the stories.

Jane Austen was very meticulous and careful about everything she put in her novels, including names. Frederick Wentworth, from Persuasion, for instance. Went-worth. An appropriate name for a man who became more valuable when he was gone, whose worth increased as he went.

Mr & Mrs Gardiner from Pride & Prejudice, whose name sounds like the word garden. They are nurturing, productive people who foster the good relations between the one-time antagonists of the story. Pemberley, the perfect house where true stewardship of the land lives in elegance and comfort. It would be the secret name of my grand estate, if I had one. Secret, because I think naming a house something so grand would be a bit pretentious.

Emma Wood-house, whose flimsy fantasies regarding her neighbors fall under their own weight. She lives at Hartfield, the field where she will come to know her own heart, and in the village of Highbury, where she, who has never seen the sea, is buried in her own machinations. Mr Knightley, the knight who wants to rescue her from herself, who lives at Donewell Abbey, the place where things are done well. Harriet Smith, the little nobody. Jane Fairfax, the fair one who hides the facts, and Mr Frank Churchill, who can be churlish and childish, and is the opposite of frank.

Lucy Steele, who is cold, determined and hard as steel. The Dashwoods, who must leave their home and make a dash for Devonshire. Edward Ferrars, who is ferried around aimlessly, without an occupation, and Col. Brandon, who is branded old and infirm by the woman he loves.

Fanny Price, the mouse who becomes the prize at the end of Mansfield Park. The Crawfords, who must crawl out and hide. Northanger Abbey, where General Tilney lives in anger.

Jane Austen repeated several names, like Mary, Elizabeth, William, Catherine, and Fanny, in keeping with the realistic tone of her work, and as would be in a country village. Her names fit. Lady Catherine de Bourgh would turn an ugly shade of puce had she been named Lady Fanny Price, I think.

In Daniel Deronda, which I am reading right now, I have found some interesting names too. Miss Harleth, who so far seems more a harlot than a nymph. Offendene, where Gwendolen gives offense to her neighbors and friends. Rex, the king of the house. Mrs. Glasher, the one who lashes out in revenge. Grandcourt, the great match, and Lush, whose name brings to my mind a repulsive, uncouth man out for what he can get.

I love the name Deronda. I’ve read that the name was probably inspired by an artist friend of George Eliot’s, Francois D’Albert Durade, who painted her portrait, but I haven’t found any other references to it being a real surname. It’s a brilliant name for the character, a distinctive, uncommon name for a man of mysterious origins and elegant mind.

If I were a character in a book I’d like my name to be something like Cecilia, Annabelle or Olivia, with a surname like Wharton, Bailey or Croft. In a Spanish book, any of those names would work, and I’d like a surname like Obregón, Aragón or Ferrer.

I like literary names that are realistic and appropriate, but at the same time memorable and well-thought out.

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6 Responses to “What’s in a name?”

  1. Helen October 10, 2007 at 9:37 am #

    On the topic of names, I now know where your blog got its name! I’ve just finished reading Cold Comfort Farm!

    My parents almost called me Eleanor, and I’m so glad they didn’t! I’m not an Eleanor, but that would be a good name if I was a character in a book. I like the name Olivia too, but my favourite name, if I was a book character, would be Cecile.

  2. lvmg (Lizzy) October 10, 2007 at 10:01 am #

    Cecile is such an elegant name! I like it too, there’s something about French names.

    I love Cold Comfort Farm. When my husband and I bought our first house I wanted to name it No. 1 Mouse Place but never got around to making a sign, so when I started this blog it seemed the perfect name for it.

    I can’t picture you as anything other than Helen. I kind of think our personalities are shaped by our names, though I can’t explain how.

  3. TW November 9, 2007 at 11:51 pm #

    My own situation with names is slightly odd; my given name was unusual so my grandparents called me Tallulah all my life. It was longer than my real name and just as odd to people who questioned it.

    They called me that because I had a very deep voice for a tiny baby and the only person they knew anything about at the time with a deep voice was the American actress Tallulah Bankhead. I grew tired of telling the reason by the time I was a teenager; and was slightly embaressed by then; so I quit mentioning. Of course, that didn’t stop my grandparents from calling me that when my friends were around. But now I embrace it in many ways; as my company name and my blogging site name and moniker. I guess it did shape my personality!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Songs and Names » What’s in a name? No.1 Mouse Place - March 11, 2008

    […] Get more information about this from the author here […]

  2. Mansfield Park « No.1 Mouse Place - February 27, 2009

    […] The book shares the name of the Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, Lord Mansfield, who, in 1772, presided over Somersett’s Case and gave the judgment that declared slavery unlawful in England. Jane Austen wrote in a letter that she was ‘in love’ with a leading abolitionist, Thomas Clarkson, and this leads me to believe that the use of the name is not a coincidence. Jane Austen was careful and thoughtful in every detail of her work, including the naming of her characters. […]

  3. Cold Comfort Farm « No.1 Mouse Place - January 7, 2012

    […] chose to name my blog No. 1 Mouse Place because in Cold Comfort Farm it is the address of Flora Poste’s […]

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