What’s in a name?

By Sue Trollip

This morning one of my favourite radio DJs was having a rant about names. One woman phoned in and he said, ‘What were your parents smoking when they named you?’ And she said, ‘I keep asking them that.’ She was not amused by her strange name, claiming that no one knew how to pronounce it or spell it and she was constantly having to correct or explain it to people. Strange is one thing, like Apple, but at least people can spell that.

Then there’s that magical chef who has four children their names are, Buddy Bear Maurice, Petal Blossom Rainbow, Daisy Boo Pamela, Poppy Honey Rosie. The girl’s names may all be sweet, and perhaps by the time she’s old enough the world will be ready for a woman president called Petal, but I’m just not sure about a hero named Buddy Bear. I gave this some thought then pondered on the words of their mother, Mrs Oliver, who quite rightly said in an interview, your children’s names are no one else’s busincool-names-511ess.

Having a rather traditional name I longed in my younger days to be someone more exotic. Choosing names for my characters is one of the things I love most about writing and I discovered early on that it’s not that easy. I sometimes go with names I’d have liked for myself, or names of people I admire and some days, when feeling so inspired, I look around me and choose names from things that surround me. Sometimes there are flowers like Petunia and Marigold and sometimes spices like Chai and Herb. When it comes to fruits you have to be careful, but I like Berry and Olive (Is an olive a fruit?). There are plenty of country names to choose from, Kenya and France being only two and of course there are days when you need to have a hero who is proper and Victorian and then Henry or Elizabeth are obvious choices.

I considered adding vegetables to the list for inspiring names and although my niece once had a doll named Spinach I don’t know if Butternut or Bean would make anybody happy no matter what they had, or had not, been inhaling.


9 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. jac dowling says:

    Nice one Sue. Bob Geldof’s daughter is named Peaches…but take heart, my imaginery friend as a child was Fishskin, and she had to come everywhere I went, usually very loudly! Some of the male workers’ names, on the winefarms, are imaginative to the point of not being able to repeat them, never mind calling from a distance…

    • Sue says:

      Ha, that’s terrible, did you live near the sea?
      Peaches, poor child, I wonder if she had friends called Summer and Blossom, I feel the start of something poetic about to erupt so I’ll sign off now.

  2. Susan says:

    Well Sue, both you and I share a name that was very common back in the sixties. Many people used to call their small annoying lapdogs Suzie as well, which I took serious objection to as a child. In high school, there were four of us in my class. I also longed for an exotic name and swore that I would one day name my own daughter something unpronounceable or even hideous just so that she didn’t suffer an identity crisis. So perhaps we should look at the names of the parents who call their children something exotic, in order to see why.

  3. Sue says:

    That’s a good point because Jamie is a pretty common name … so perhaps it’s that longing for something that stands out in the crowd. Though I discovered in my twenties, that something bright and a pair of stacked heels does the trick too.

    • jac dowling says:

      Yes, I did live by the sea and fed my doll left over fish – she had an open mouth and gullet! Lettice was popular in the 20s, daisy, Bryony, Marigold…but not broccolli: Summer and Autumn have both married minor royals in the UK and if you start looking at family names of our Cape residents, the months of the year feature prominently – Januarie, Februarie, May, Julies, September and november. So, what’s in a name? By the by – Susan remains one of my favourites in all its varied forms – except Suzie or Soozee. Are you back Susan or still enjoying the mild Oz summer climate?!

      • Susan says:

        I got back on Saturday, Jac. Still trying to remember which country I’m in and what time it is…

      • Sue says:

        Please tell me you threw that stinking dolly away. Oh my goodness she must have honked! I’m imagining a tuna can … it’s not pleasant.

  4. Penny M says:

    People often called me by the name of Penelope which ticked me off. They used several different pronunciations, such as Pennilope, Pennylowp, Penellopee. My stock answer was, “Just Penny” which set off a string of jokes. I felt somewhat devalued. Imagine being equated to a copper that has been through the hands of everybody in the U.K. at one time or another.

    I put my penny into the currency calculator just now and found that i am worth two south african rands and so there you have it, literally more than my two cents worth.

    • Sue says:

      Oh Pennikins, I do think they named you Penny for each iota of DNA, making you fairly priceless, even at a rough guess. My parents named me Susan and never called me by my name, so perhaps yours were merely pre-empting the shortening process.

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