I like a good character name. I met one just recently, in a cute, weird little video my son sent me from youtube. Marcel the Shell. I like the way that name sounds. I like the way (look at the video) it's hard to tell if Marcel is male or female, kind of like Pat from SNL. I like the consonance, the assonance. I like to say it, and I will say it until I'm tired of Marcel, which my loved ones hope is soon.
Jay Gatsby, László de Almásy, Garp, Beezus, Scarlett, Scout, Sethe--all great names, but it's really the character that counts, not the name. The name leads to character and the character is what we remember. The person underneath the marker, the personality in the moniker. That's what I want. But ti's nice if a name rolls off the tongue.
My distinction between name and character led me to have a war with Time Magazine back in 1984 or so. Sigourney Weaver stated in an article that she took her name from a character in The Great Gatsby. Really? I thought. A character? I read through the book again, knowing that after having read that novel about five thousand times before that there was no character with such a name.
I wrote an indignant letter to the editor, this in the time before email. I received a kind, tender letter back that stated I needed to get my head out of a dark, dank place. There is, the letter stated, a character of such a name in this novel. Go eat some cake and shut up.
And yes, the poor graduate student answering mail was right. Here is Sigourney:
“Why, about an hour.” “It was — simply amazing,” she repeated abstractedly. “But I swore I wouldn’t tell it and here I am tantalizing you.” She yawned gracefully in my face: “Please come and see me. . . . Phone book . . . Under the name of Mrs. Sigourney Howard . . . My aunt . . .” She was hurrying off as she talked — her brown hand waved a jaunty salute as she melted into her party at the door.
Jordan's aunt. Mrs. Sigourney Howard. So wrong I was indeed.
But I wasn't wrong. This is no character. This is a name recited by a character, Jordan. Jordan is a character. She has a personality. She is someone in the story, not just a name. But, actually, I'm wrong. At least clinically.
Sigourney is a great name, so great that an actor took it and used it for all of her professional life. But great names do not great characters make. Helen launched a thousand ships, but Helen isn't exactly a name to think about. Adam at this point is a nice, solid name, but it's no László de Almásy. It's what the character does, not what the character is named that makes a character.
But a good name never hurts.
Causes Jessica Inclán Supports
Women for Women International Goodwill Industries Lindsey Wildlife Museum Freecycle.org