Just don’t say "moniker." It’s pretentious.

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I’m an unapologetic name collector. Usually I find them in phonebooks, but I’ve been known to eavesdrop on conversations at Wal-Mart and a few other places, wander off an aisle or two, and quickly scribble down stolen names from snippets of conversation. Sometimes I thieve entire conversations, but that’s a story for another day.
When I travel, which isn’t terribly often, I’ve been known to snag entire phonebooks so I may, once safely home, flip hungrily through foreign books and update my list. It’s a long list, but you can bet I’ve never been stuck for a character’s name. Not once. For me, nothing makes the writing go faster. There are actors who can’t get into character until they find the right pillbox hat or slip on the perfect pair of wingtips. When I’m writing fiction, it’s the name.
There’s a lot of mojo in the perfect name. That’s why all these uptight new parents now spend an extravagance on naming services for their bouncing baby whatevers. It makes me laugh, especially since a generation or so ago people were having too many kids to even care. There was a formula: name the first boy after his dad, and all ensuing boys after various uncles or near-relations. John. Robert. William. Girls were named after grandmothers and aunts , or flowers, as long as the name wasn’t too ugly or the female relative too morally loose. My ex-father-in-law’s name is LD. No periods. It’s not short for anything nor does it represent his initials. Granny Fason just had too many damn kids and very little creativity. He has a brother named JD. You see what I mean.
Not many couples have seven or eight kids anymore unless they’re a Duggar. At least they have a whole Bible full of names to choose from. Now there’s research into meanings, hidden, obvious, and historic in a name. It has to stand out, give the child a head start in an ugly, competitive, eat-‘em-alive world. Forget the fat books full of baby names, over-pay some opportunist to name your kid Apple.
Actually, that’s good advice when naming characters – forget the baby name books. Otherwise everyone in your stories will sound like soap stars. Chance. Trace. Skye. Unless you’re actually writing soaps…or those bodice-rippers I used to read in junior high with Fabio (there’s another one) on the cover.
I like the phonebooks because those names are real and they cross several generations of naming trends. A good small-town, southern phonebook can take you to naming places you never thought possible. Twanette. Loyce. Crescentia. Eulid. Vernadean. Eightha. Thurl. And those are my throw-aways. I have hundreds of others I’d use in second. Names like Portia, Sulie, Ever, Warfield, and Rueben just write their own stories.
Some are just too unbelievable to use. For example, I went to school with a girl named Listerine Piggee, bless her heart. Another gal who sweated on the first day of school was Vagina (pronounced va-geena) Sumpter. Luckily, calling roll on the first day of school the teachers always lilted, “Miss Sumpter?” giving poor Va-geena the benefit of the pause. I’ve used this roll-calling trick myself when face-to-rollbook with an unfortunately named student. I do appreciate an unusual name, but not when it victimizes. No character – living or created – should have to answer to Listerine.

6 thoughts on “Just don’t say "moniker." It’s pretentious.

  1. What a great post!!! Your analysis was so spot on. I’m so glad you referenced the Duggars. All my uncles, after the Junior, are named after their Uncles. In John’s family, the boys (after the Junior)are all saints names–a Catholic requirement. When Jackson came along (and all his uniquely named cousins) the question became–what saint is that? My uncle, the priest, is very good at helping young families link up to saints, he gets a lot of practice with it, as in: Why of course, Jackson is a derivation of Jack, which is short for John–St. John–presto–all set. Then the seventies came along, with Jennifer and Jason, and all bets were off. Wonder if we’ll ever get back to the way it used to be. Or what the next trends will be.I’ll never forget a line from a short story about a linguist introduced to a little girl named Brandee. Hmm, the linguist thought of her well meaning parents, why didn’t you just name her “clerical help.” Snarky but true.SV

  2. Oh Monda. I knew I loved you for a reason. (hehehe). I, too, collect names. I have a going list of unfortunately trashy names from my generation, including Crystal, Amber, Heather, and Brandy. I went to school with a girl named Starkeisha. One word, pronounced exactly how it looks. For inspiration, I look to my family. I have a great, great grandmother whose name was Icie Sisk, and a great Aunt Pricie Jones. My grandfather had a sister named Melinda America who everyone called Aunt Lindie. And I have a 2nd cousin whose honest-to-God first and middle name is Tammy Wynette. But Listerine takes the cake.

  3. “Clerical help.” Ha! Like all those two-named Jim Bob’s who should have been named “bail bond.”Icie is a completely perfect name and I’m just sick you got to it first. I just hope Miss Icie Sisk didn’t have a lisp.

  4. I love names and love that you collect names. We’ve had a few “special” ones in our family. I had an Aunt Orphie who has a sister named Dorothy but we all call her Aunt Dumpy. I just thought it was a southern thing.

  5. If I haven’t told so already, I <>love<> your writing. Savvy, crisp, funny, informative, able to convey subtlety, irony, satire, effortlessly. You so take me there, Monda. (Mondine, Mondina, Modeena, Mobettah). 😉Poor <>Vagina<>. And <>Listerine<>? Why do those two back-to-back seem both natural and necessary? Oy veh.I collect names too and have since grade school, so your essayette is a wonderful read. A young blue-eyed SoCal ditz from circa 1969: <>Crysta Chanda Lear<>. True name.A whole Mormon family: Cheery, Joy, Gay, & Happy. (Poor Hap was the only male. He had against-the-law perfect hair like Bobby Sherman).My all time favorite? <>Carbulence Crinklebauser<>. Never fails to register on the chuckle-o-meter. Another I’ve always wanted to use is so horrendous, I find it a challenge to make it work in context and (like Vonnegut’s Kilgore Trout and Dwayne Hoobler) make it roll effortlessly from the literary tongue: <>Hercules Blodgett<>.Okay, maybe not. 🙂

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