Sunday, January 14, 2007

What's in a name?

That which we call a rose, by any other name, would still smell so sweet.

Yeah, but would it? If it was called a Stinkweed, would you even let your nose near it? I may have misquoted that above, by the way. I'm doing it from memory.

Yesterday in The Times there was a feature--a whole separate booklet, even!--on names. On what they mean, and what they mean for you. Are Richards and Davids really more likely to succeed than Waynes and Kevins? Why do teachers give higher marks to Emmas than to Kayleighs? Should it be considered child cruelty to name your kid Reignbeaux? (yes. Yes, it should. Do you want the kid to get beaten up in the playground?).

So of course I look up my own name. Now, I was actually christened Kate. Not, as my mother restrospectively wishes, Katharine; but just plain Kate. And bonny Kate, and sometimes Kate the curst, But Kate, the prettiest Kate in Christendom, Kate of Kate Hall, my super-dainty Kate... (okay, I had to look that one up. But snaps to me for having a Shakespearean name, right?).

But here's the thing. I can never find 'Kate' on a mug or a door plaque. Katie, yes. Katharine, Catherine, and everything in between. And yes, I know, one name comes from another. I know the Greek root of it ('pure', if that's not funny enough). I know that all Caitlins and Kathleens are from the same root and mean the same thing.

But they're not the same, are they? Picture someone called Katharine, and someone called Catherine. To me, one is a 60s filmstar riding around on a bicycle with Paul Newman, and the other is the cosy lady who lived at the end of my street when I was little. Picture Kate, and Katie. Moss, Winslet? Holmes, Price? They're different names. I honestly don't know if the Ms's Winslet, Moss, Blanchett, Holmes etc were christened Katherine and chose to shorten their names. but I think the diminutive you choose, or is chosen for you, can make a huge difference in the way you're seen or the way you act. Look at the difference between Liz, Lizzie, Lilibet, Beth, Bethan, Betty, Bess...all from the same name (which is, incidentally, my middle name).

When I was picking out a pseudonym to write under (with two very different kinds of books, I wanted two different names) I went through various different names. For a while I considered changing my name entirely to Jamie (one of my favourite boy's names, and one I'd doubtless overuse otherwise). But Cat wasn't hard to settle on. With my well-known love of all things feline, it's a certainly in my house that if I had actually been christened Katharine, I'd have been nicknamed Cat. It's nice to finally get the name I always thought I should have.

Names are so crucial to the way a person is perceived that it can take a long, long time to name a character. But more on that later--that's several blogposts all in one!

What do you think of your own name? Would you pick a different moniker if you could--or have you already?

1 comment:

  1. You know...I was born with one name...I changed it to the name I should have been given if my deadbeat dad hadn't been such an ass to my mother about naming me, among other things. The last name changed when I got married...and the nickname, well, I crafted that one.

    In essence, I chose my name twice as well. Funny how that works.

    Names fascinate me. I can't write about my characters until their names show up. I am a pain in the butt about that.