Friday, April 1, 2016

Your Name in Lights

Imagine, for a moment—and never mind that today is April Fool's Day—that a world-famous novelist has just decided to use your name for the main character in his next bestseller.

Before you scoff at such a notion and turn away, consider a few thoughts.

First, if your name is quite common—say, Chris Stevens, like my husband's name—you may find yourself hearing your name mentioned on a television series, just by coincidence (all the more funny in that, long before Northern Exposure named their morning show DJ Chris Stevens, my Chris Stevens worked the morning drive time on a local radio station here).

Second, writers have to glean their material from somewhere. Many times, they take their inspiration from the world around them. While it might be coincidental that a name like yours is chosen for a writer's latest creation, it could also be a form of benign borrowing. Unless an author admits to the source of his or her inspiration, we may never know.

Sometimes, however, the name is not a common one, and the technique for developing the unusual moniker may be much more direct than we'd suspect.

That's what I found out, just the other day, while going through the tedium of adding names to my maternal family tree. While I delight in sharing the fascinating stories that pop up in the course of the usual genealogical pursuits, sometimes those stories just fail to materialize. Meanwhile, I'm plugging away at the routine verifications that make up a genealogist's day—the absence of stories simply means it's just that I haven't yet found the next interesting tidbit to talk about.

Not today. After a long dry spell, I finally stumbled upon something. Again, like the John Hogue story I uncovered a few months back, it involves a distant cousin—remember, I'm still slaving away at that matrilineal line, hoping to uncover the nexus with my mystery cousin. Set in the middle of the 1800s, the person I'm going to tell you about (patience: that will be beginning tomorrow, as there is too much to explain in just one day) was actually a third cousin to one of my great grandmothers.

This ancestral shirt-tail relative was one of those unfortunate people gifted with a name passed down by family tradition from an era which appreciated the honorable token, to a more modern time frame in which it just became an awkward fact of life. The kind of name that would tempt a man to go by his initials. Or create a nickname.

Of course, I knew where that name came from. However, I doubt the poor man took the time to pause, upon meeting each new acquaintance, to explain why he had such an unusual name. He just had to put up with it, day in and day out, through every moment of his sixty five years.

Someone else, though, just happened to notice it. And remark about it. At the right time, and to the right person. And this man's name has been captured forever, in the pages of a classic by a well-known author. Not only that, but the story was made into an adaptation for radio broadcast, and even later, into a film starring Sean Connery and Christopher Plummer.

All because he had such an unusual name, swiped by just the right author.

Which is why I always Google the unusual names in my family tree. One never knows what can be found.


  1. My maiden name is often used for bad guys in westerns. My daughter considered using it if she had a boy, but all her friends said, "NO! That's a serial killer!" I guess we didn't have the right actor to improve our image.

    1. Wendy, your daughter's friends are on to something. My daughter and her writer friends have often mentioned how certain names tend to be used for specific roles--or plot results. I'm not sure an actor would improve on your chances, if the name in question is one of those names.

  2. There is a lot in the theory that says you are your name (or identify with it). Good and bad connotations. I wouldn't think I'd name a boy Adolph for instance..

    1. Granted, Adolph would be an unfortunate choice. But for even those others which might not be as obvious, it seems most every name comes with a significance--either a historic or language-based meaning. And, of course, there are always those other connections people draw in their minds, whether to celebrities, infamous characters, or just that gal or guy we couldn't stand in our high school gym class.

  3. How interesting! I had such a difficult last name before I got married that no one would intentionally want it! :)

    1. But if Google is around, one hundred years from now, you'll be so easy to find! ;)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...