What’s in a Name?

I believe in addressing people by their names. It makes them feel good about themselves.

Unfortunately, my memory for names is almost as bad as my memory for faces. Although aging hasn’t helped that problem any, at least I can still remember my own name.

Because of that–my preference for using a person’s name, not the fact that I can remember my own name–the first draft of my first novel had characters calling one another by name left to right, top to bottom, front to back.

I’m quite thankful my wife caught that problem early enough for me to correct it. Pronouns came into being for a reason, and I guarantee you readers are thankful for that. I’m a reader, too.

According to How Many of Me, which searches census statistics, the United States has thirty men named Roger Bruner. I haven’t met any of the other twenty-nine and can’t imagine I ever will. If How Many of Me was able to search on middle names as well, I’m pretty confident I’d be the only Roger Ellis Bruner.

I suppose knowing I’m relatively uniquely named should be reassuring. Suppose I shared the name of one of the world’s most dangerous and hated men? Hmm. Let’s not even go there.

“Roger” means “expert with a spear.” “Ellis” is the first name of a man my parents were very dedicated to. I wouldn’t be willing to quote the Urban Dictionary’s definition of “Ellis,” but they make being teased during my childhood by “friends” calling me “Elvis” seem less objectionable.

I was almost scared to look up “Bruner,” but the results weren’t nearly as bad. It’s both German and Jewish and used to refer to a person who lived beside a spring or a well. As a Christian, I would like to be thought of as someone who lives beside the Spring of Living Water and invites others to drink from it.

People sometimes used to think my father looked somewhat Jewish. I was interested in learning–while visiting a synagogue in Sydney,  Australia–how few Jews ‘t look “typically Jewish.” So why shouldn’t my non-Jewish father be a reverse of that?

As a novelist, I’m frequently having to name my characters. Although I try to avoid using the names of famous people,  sometimes a person isn’t sufficiently well known for me to be familiar with. Thank goodness Googling a name is apt to identify that person and help me make a wise decision about whether to go ahead and use his or her name.

In When Love Won’t Wait, a novel I plan to publish within the next couple of months, I’ve named one of the protagonists “Katie Campbell.” Google found a number of hits on that name, although only three showed up in Facebook. Since my Katie is a wonderful woman, I didn’t see any reason not to go ahead and use that name.

Nonetheless, this statement on the copyright page is always important:

This is a work of fiction. All characters, names, dialogue, incidents, and places either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Just one additional thought. Because I’m adopted and don’t have any idea who my birth parents were, I also have no idea what their surname was or what they planned to name me. My daughter is adopted as well, but at least we know she was named “Ashleigh” at birth.

I’ve had fun writing this. If you haven’t already looked up your name on How Many of Me, why don’t you do it now and tell us the results in a comment. How about also letting us know what your name(s) mean, if you know.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,

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Addressing People by Name

Years and years ago, when I wrote my first novel, I handed it over to my wife to read and comment on. Can you imagine my shock when she advised me that I’d repeatedly made the same easily fixable flaw?

Yes, it seemed I’d overdone having characters refer to one another by name when addressing one another in dialogue. Huh?

Sure enough, in writing contemporary fiction, the author should be very stingy in using names in direct address. Even though that’s a convenient way to show who’s talking without saying, “Mary said,” we authors should rely on other methods–more creative ones–to accomplish that goal.

Why was I so shocked to be called on my misuse of names in direct address, then? (Other than the fact I hadn’t yet learned that was a no-no.)

Because I was copying real life. MY real life. I like to call people by name. It makes them feel important.

At least it makes me feel important when other people do it to me.

When we started attending our current church (we’ve been there at least ten years), a female member of the church staff who hadn’t gotten my name down yet kept addressing me as “Buddy.” Yuck! I’d rather not have been addressed as anything. Fortunately that changed quickly, and she calls me by name frequently. (And never “Buddy”.)

I became even more conscious of my feelings on this subject during the three years I worked at Target before retiring to write full-time.  I had a number of African-American–is “Black” in or out of fashion now?–co-workers, and I was pleasantly amazed at how many of them, especially the older ones, addressed me as “Mr. Roger.” It made me feel respected.

Even though I retired eight years ago, those same people continue to address me that way. I would feel artificial if I were to address them that way, and I’d like to believe I give them just as much respect addressing them by first name (I’ve never known their last names, and they probably don’t know mine) as they give me.

I’ve mentioned from time to time that I walk at the mall in the mornings. I can only think of two fellow walkers I actually know (or have known) except at the mall. One from church and one from our former church.

But over a period of time, I’ve exchanged names with some of them. Chris. Grady. John. Sam. Margaret. Dolores. We all call one another by name the first time we meet while walking, and–as strange as it might sound–it makes me feel good to have at least that small bit of familiarity with people I’m not apt to have a chance to really get to know in “real life.”

What about you? Are you conscious of addressing or being addressed by name? (Not necessarily by first name.) What are your feelings on this subject? How about leaving a comment?

NOTE: Various people have complained about not being able to find or leave comments. Go all the way to the bottom of this post, beneath my “Best regards, Roger.” On the very bottom line of that last section just above the previous post you’ll see “Leave a Comment” if yours will be the first or “X Comments,” where  X denotes the number of existing comments.


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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,