Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Naming of Things

Mark Twain in his Adam’s Diary, talks about how the names of things came to be.  Adam credits Eve, whom he somewhat resents for taking over his privacy and independence.
On Tuesday, the second day, Adam writes:  Been examining the great waterfall. It is the finest thing on the estate, I think. The new creature calls it Niagara Falls-- why, I am sure I do not know. Says it LOOKS like Niagara Falls. That is not a reason, it is mere waywardness and imbecility. I get no chance to name anything myself.
And then on Friday he says, The naming goes recklessly on, in spite of anything I can do. I had a very good name for the estate, and it was musical and pretty-- GARDEN OF EDEN.
I find Twain very amusing and this section of the Diaries, especially so.  
All this leads up to the naming of things, and especially characters in my writing.
In my recently re-issued novel Family Plot, I knew there would be fifteen children, so I named them alphabetically.  I thought this was humorous, but very few people commented on it.  Maybe it was too subtle.
I also collect names.  In Oliver, Oliver, a novel I am shopping  with publishers currently, I named the main character’s step-grandfather Darko Andric.  I picked that name up when we were in London with one of our grandsons - our present for his twelfth birthday.  
We were riding the top of a London bus, and as usual I had my notebook out. As I recall, I found Darko’s as the owner of a pub on Oxford Street.
I also find names at cemeteries.  In Family Plot, Dimple Deribus’ first name was on a tombstone in the old section of the graveyard where my in-laws are buried.  We also put our son’s ashes on top of his grandfather there.  I found the name Lovely, her mother in the novel, there also.
Deribus, their last name, was the name of my Ohio grandparents’ neighbor when I was a youth.  My Grandma Roxie, who sat on her front porch and perused the neighborhood, thought Mrs. Deribus was a scandal.  The poor old lady wore a house dress most of the day and would pull weeds from her garden in the front of her home.  When she bent over, my grandmother “could see all the way to London.”  
Mrs. Deribus got dressed up every evening and then someone would drive up and honk, and she’d rush out to the car.  “She’s going to play Bunko again,” my Grandma Roxie would comment.  I don’t exactly know what Bunko is, but I suspect it’s pretty innocuous.  My grandmother didn’t intend to be funny, but she frequently was.  And those summer evenings on the porch provided me with a great name.
Also in Family Plot is a farmer named Bob Burgwald.  This man is a member of our church, and I have permission to use his name - a signed release, in fact.  If someone wanted to use my name in a novel, as long as I wasn’t a terrible villain, I’d be flattered.
As far as names go, I have tried to ‘friend’ every Bill Moser on Facebook.  So far I have about twenty friends with my name or a variation.  We’re probably related.
Sunday, when we went to a Memorial Party for a dear friend who had died, we sat at the dinner next to a charming lady who has a lawyer cousin named Moser who lives in California.  Are we related?
I honestly don’t know, but it’s very possible.  My Moser grandparents were divorced in the 1920’s.  My grandfather died shortly before my birth and I never met my grandfather’s side of the family.
Which brings me to genealogy.  I open the very comprehensive book of genealogy that my father created, point my finger and choose a name.  One of my favorites is Longnecker, but I have to be careful which character gets that name because of possible connotations.  A character who sits on the front porch and comments on the neighbors might be a good choice.
Please feel free to comment on this post, and to let me know how you choose names for your characters if you write.
And if you’re interested in buying the recently re-issued Family Plot, it’s available at and