Choosing a Name

1918 Poster

I know people who have used aliases, and changed a name, and changed a pronunciation, and buried the old in favor of the partner’s surname, and taken on a nickname. But I have only come across two people who went by a first name only.

In one case, it was a vanity thing, or at least that’s how it looked to me. It was a writer, our paths crossed briefly but at close range, and I got a good look: noisy fellow, insecure, the use of the single name as if his fist pounded on a puffed up chest. I Tarzan.

The other case was entirely different, a middle-aged woman, her aspect pained, her eyes hard to look at, and her voice a little freighted. You could


see she wanted to be free of something, and I wished for her sake that the name change did it, but it didn’t.

A name has to work—in life and in a piece of writing—or it lacks authenticity, which in turn introduces an irritant into the scene, and before long, nothing is working. What kind of authority is held by our selection? What kind of history? What fate, what trajectory have we foisted on our character? A Theodore is not a James or an Ari. An Adolf is an unfortunate choice.

I’m capable of running through a host of names before I find the right one. I won’t go so far as to say that this decision is an all or nothing proposition—well, on second thought, yes I would.

Photo credits: poster, public domain, Google Images; Albatross, stormpetrel1