What’s in a name?

Ovum screen shotOn Sunday I posted Ovum, very short story about a couple finding a mysterious egg on their doorstep and having two very different reactions to their discovery.

The story popped fully formed into my head (though it may not yet be completely finished), but the characters’ names eluded me at first, partly because I couldn’t decide their genders: should the one who wants to mother the egg be the male to turn gender biases on their head or would that be too obvious? In the end I realised I wanted to the reader to address their own prejudices a little, and so gave each character a gender-neutral name, to allow the reader to make up their own mind.

Because what’s in a name is quite a lot. It creates expectations, leads to ideas about a person that they may be unable to, or may not want to, live up to. If you name a character Daisy or Lilly, your readers may expect someone delicate and flowery. However, giving a really tough, forthright character that kind of name works because you are turning any presumptions on their head (the 1990s TV series Drop The Dead Donkey had a character called Joy who neatly subverted expectations by being anything but joyful).

I went to a party a while ago where I met a woman who introduced herself as Bob, and I immediately had the idea she was someone bold, someone to be reckoned with, possibly someone with a wry, intelligent sense of humour.

At the same party a group of people I’d never met before told me my name doesn’t suit me. It’s not the first time it’s been said, and in a way I agree, but it’s the name I grew up with and as someone who didn’t even change her surname when she got married, changing my given name could be a reach too far.

The group of people came up with an alternative name for me: Patricia – pronounced Patris-siahhh. Make of that what you will.

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