I’ve been thinking about names and how they inform our lives. When we’re born, our parents select our name that starts us on a journey. It might have some mythical weight to it, like Adam or Naomi. In that case, we’re already embedded in an archetypal story. The Biblical Adam makes me think of a male archetype, one who is grounded in masculine stereotypes of responsibility and obedience. With Naomi, there is another Biblical connection. A woman whose life is filled with strife, she is fortified by Ruth, her daughter-in-law.
It’s never clear how much or how little our names influence our future or the story of our lives. In my case, I was named after my mother (my first name). My second name Iona is an island off the coast of Scotland that has mystical connotations. It also was the name of a woman one of my uncles was dating when I was born who also had dark eyes and dark hair. Did this stranger have an impact on the person I am today?
Since I don’t know the stranger, I only have the island to speculate on, a place that definitely stimulates a visitor’s inner life. After hearing Carl Jung speak of our number one and number two personalities, the number one being the persona we show to the world, the number two expressing our more invisible inner self, I have considered Lily to be my number one personality and Iona my number two.
But what does that mean? My number one helps me to interact socially. It’s the extroverted self I use when teaching or conducting business or even interacting with friends. But my number two, Iona, is the self I write from, the part that embraces my inner life and has a spiritual aspect, though not in the organized religious sense. I meditate on most days. I also embrace my dreams from my Iona personality. And it’s why I insist on using my full name, Lily Iona MacKenzie, rather than just Lily MacKenzie. I am all of the above.
But by having Lily for my first name, I was immediately in competition with my mother, the original Lily, not a comfortable position for a daughter. Luckily, Mum chose to be called by her second name, Barbara, reducing some of the conflict. Still, I knew that my name wasn’t really my own. I was sharing it with another family member. Yet at times I didn’t want to be identified with the person I was sharing it with. It meant I wasn’t setting off on my own path, as Joseph Campbell might say. Rather, I was picking up on my mother’s, a crooked road that already had footprints on it. I wanted my own.
Eventually, I found it. But I still stumble onto my mother’s at times. When I notice myself having difficulty following directions and getting lost, I’m wearing my mother’s shoes. When I feel fogged up and unable to follow logical reasoning, I’m inhabiting her world. There are many other instances as well, too many to innumerate here, the point being that names have meaning, whether they’re our own names or our characters. And it’s important to be conscious of the impact they have.
In my first published novel Fling!, 90 year-old Bubbles, the main character, shares some of my mother’s characteristics. She’s fun-loving, curious, and adventuresome. She also is somewhat loony. Bubbles, the character’s name, suggests someone who is effervescent, vivacious, and lively.
Similarly, in my second published novel, Curva Peligrosa, the main character, whose name is the title of the book, throws dangerous curves. Not all of her actions are within her control, which the name suggests. Time has a tendency to either stop or do crazy things in her presence, discombobulating her neighbors. Sink holes or bodies of water appear when she’s in the area and then dissipate when she leaves. All of these things make her unpredictable.
What’s in a name? While we may think names are random, whether in actual life or in a novel, and sometimes they are, often they influence us in unexpected ways. There is more to a name than might appear on the surface, and that’s one of the pleasures of being a writer. Not only do we have the privilege of picking our characters’ names, but we also can discover their deeper significance.
2 thoughts on “What’s in a name?”
I so loved this as someone who has fiddled endlessly with my own name. I once had an editor tell me the names in Loving the Dead and Gone were too ‘over the top’– and then i told her they were my relative’s names!
Thanks, Judith, for sharing your own experience here with names!