“But I didn’t live the life of a Maddy. I lived the life of a Nicole.”
That’s a quote from a Slate story, about a transgender man choosing a new name for himself. I thought the article was very interesting, but most of what I focused on was this idea about names, and how they define us. (Or help to define us.)
I guess something you could think of would be the Ashleys from Recess. I mean, we all had something like that, right? A group of girls all with the same name? (Whatever happened to be popular the year you were born.) They all seem like carbon-copies of one another? Of course there was Spinelli, whose first name was also *spoiler alert* Ashley. And in her case, she wasn’t anything at all like the other Ashleys. Why not? What’s in a name, anyway?
I’ll tell you something I’ve always found really interesting. I’ve met four different Evans in my life. A couple I went to school with, a couple I knew through other people, but they all had one thing for sure in common–they were all allergic to peanut butter. Right?? Isn’t that the strangest thing you’ve ever heard of? What are the chances of the four Evans in my life all being allergic to the same thing? Needless to say, in my mind the name ‘Evan’ will forever be synonymous with a peanut allergy. So it goes.
And it’s not just that. If it weren’t for the fact that my sister’s name is Kelsey, (although sometimes she fits in this category as well,) I would say I just don’t have a very good record with girls of that name. Every other one I’ve ever known has been a complete and utter biotch. Was it because of their name? Probably not. Did they have a higher propensity for meanness because of their name? That’s what I’d really like to know.
Maybe it’s the idea that some names are more popular than others. It’s silly, but I feel that having a name that sounds like everyone else’s, or in some cases IS the same name, helps make you feel like you fit in. People are silly, and our brains work in silly ways. We’re created with these huge big brains, but honestly we’re still herd-animals at heart, and one of the prime directives is that we like to feel that we’re one of the pack. It can take years for us to break out of that frame of mind, if we ever do.
I grew up with an odd, not-so-usual name. A name a lot of teachers mispronounced. A name that stood out in a crowd. (There never was another person with my name in any school I’ve ever been to.) I like to think that I would have been the same person I am now if I’d been named Rachel, or Amber, or Kimberley, but the truth is I just don’t know. I don’t know how much our names affect who we are. It seems odd that they should influence us so much, when they’re just random labels given to us at birth by parents who often know nothing about us, or what we will be like as people when we grow up. But they do.
This is something important to consider, always, when you’re writing. Giving your character a name that fits, a name that speaks to who they are as a person, is more than just an arbitrary decision. It shouldn’t be “Well that sounds cool, I’ll name my character that!”. It needs to really mean something to them, and tell their story. Because if your character has lived the life of a Nicole, you can’t name them Maddy. A Maddy has lived a completely different kind of life.