Esoteric Pursuits

Names.  They have long held a fascination for me. My interest probably started in childhood when I played with dolls. At around age six, I gave two of my dolls, what we called “Big Girl” dolls in those days, what I thought were French names, Denise and Elise. Sensual names. Sensual sounds. I have since learned that Elise is a German name. My baby doll twins, dubbed Taffy and Sandy, deserved cute names, and back then I thought twins had to have names that rhymed.  How I knew that Sandy was a diminutive of Alexander, I can’t imagine.  Probably because of my highly intelligent mother.

But why did I choose those names and not something like Alice and Roberta for the grown-up dolls, and maybe Rosa and Roland for the “babies?” It was the sound, I think now, and the way the words felt on my tongue. I had an affinity for language that seemed beautiful to me in the first case, and the twins’ names were fun to say. As a girl, I wasn’t thinking about what a name meant.

A few years ago, I discovered the field of onomastics, the study of names. There was even a society to join for those dedicated to the study of names.  Fabulous, I thought.  Other people out there as eccentric as I was interested in this esoteric discipline.  Work, and other interests at the time, prevented me from joining the organization. Now, I have learned, interest in onomastics has grown considerably and academics are pursuing research that enriches the understanding of names for all of us.  It is definitely a great time to add my name to the rosters of those inclined toward names.  The Internet makes research easy, even for the neophyte.

One of the websites that provides a wealth of information on names and prompts some wondrous exploration, is called “Behind the Name.”  The site points out that onomastics is a discipline connected to linguistics and history, as well as to psychology and anthropology  and other areas of study. What a convenient Internet tool for would be parents, for teachers, for writers, for actors and actresses! Or simply for the lovers of names, like me.

On the site, you can find out which names were most popular last year in different countries, or which names are trending at the moment. You can look up the derivation of your own name or your spouse’s or that of your children, siblings, or friends. Do their names match their personalities? Good question. Maybe there’s a study out there. What about how or whether a name affects academic performance? Some researchers are studying that. I can imagine that a young couple might read what such studies conclude and may change an initial choice for their yet to be born progeny.

The choice of a name, whether for your child, or for the protagonist in the novel you are writing is seldom based on just one criteria.   In choosing a name for a book or a play, a writer may indeed want to connect a character’s name to a theme of the book. In choosing a child’s name, traditions within a person’s family may dictate the choice.  Trying to come up with a name that is unique is and will be memorable to others is often another consideration. The French writer Anna Gavolda named one of the main  characters in her well-received novel, Hunting and Gathering, Phililbert Marquet de la Durbelliére.  Didn’t that just fit his aristocratic background? Who could possibly forget a name like that?

An esoteric pursuit can turn into a love affair.

–Judith R-G