Its a good thing I’m childless because I imagine the frustrating business of naming offspring just might do me in. In the four months since I began this manuscript, I’ve managed to find names for just two of my three main characters. Granted, character naming is not exactly a large part of my training as a poet, but it seems unreasonable that I’ve come to such stress and self doubt over this, of all factors. Fiction-writing friends have suggested that I let the names emerge organically (still unsure how one does this), or visit baby name sites for ideas. I must say, I’m glad kid-naming has progressed beyond the the corny books I remember my parents flipping through as they waited for my brother’s adoption to be finalized. I still vividly remember a book with a large and very disturbing watercolor portrait of a baby’s face, with And His Name Shall Be Called… running along the top in blue script.
Baby-naming sites may still be full of the same eye-bleeding pastels, broken up with gratuitous photography of chubby cheeks, but what sortability! What a proliferation of options! A person can pick a name based on census data, on perceived ability of a name to increase the intellect, on “Kabalalistics,” on Cockney rhyming slang, and even on a list of nouns that generally denote objects rather than people, such as the ever-popular Eagle, Stone, and Briar (incidentally, a friend of ours seems to have briefly considered this noun option when he came up with the name Knife Fight for his son. Would it keep the bigger kids from giving young K.F. an atomic wedgie in the sandbox? I think yes. But a name that might be taken as a suggestion by a misguided adolescent? Also yes. Glad they went with Henry in the end).
Even with all these available methods of name choosing, my one criterion for a viable candidate was the use of a single syllable; I’ve had “May” standing in as a temporary name, which has locked me into some particular rhythms in the poems. When one of the baby name sites featured a Sort-By-Syllable feature, I was settling in for a long list, ready to winnow it down to the perfect name. But the entire list took up less than a quarter page: Faith, Hope, Grace, Eve, Anne, Lee, Rae, Meg (which I consider cheating), Maeve, and, you guessed it, good ol’ May.
My book has religious shades about it, so the first four choices would seem heavy-handed. My best friend is named Anne, and would likely protest being the forebear of my rather disturbed and hopefully disturbing character. None of the remaining choices strike me as any solid improvement on my stand-in…I might have just named by character by default. One of the easier problems solved in this endeavor.