By Any Other Name

An interesting name is irresistible to me. It might capture someone perfectly, make me want to know more about them, or just be entertaining. My grandmother’s maiden name was Grace Funk, which is possibly my favorite name ever. That it belonged to an unassuming midwestern woman born just after the turn of the (previous) century adds to its appeal. Our town included a family with the last name of Booze. The parents actually named their two daughters Brandi and Sheri.

I once read a travel piece by a writer named Freda Moon, a name so good I gave it to a character in a short story. I met a Margot once and have been determined to find a use for that name ever since. My favorite professor’s first name was Folke and he was Folke to his core.

Many of the best names are from fiction, film, music, and television. I’m partial to Wes Anderson and Aaron Sorkin, so it’s no surprise that some of my favorites belong to their characters: Rosemary Cross, Steve Zissou, Ash and Kristofferson, Toby Ziegler, and Isaac Jaffe. And how can I not love names like Amelia Pond, Ramona Flowers, and Althea?

Our own names have layers of stories within them; the story of how they came to be and who we came to be. We’re given names, but sometimes we grow into someone else. We decide that what we’ve been called is no longer who we are. Names are intimately wrapped up in our identity and vice versa.

Which is sort of a strange thought in my case, because at different times in my life, I have been referred to by my first, middle, and last name. In the right setting, I have be attuned to respond to all three. Funny enough, they really do feel like slightly different versions of myself. They mark the years like rings on a tree.