February 3rd, 2016

Name games

I have very strong feelings about names, but they are hard to quickly and easily define to people. It’s not that I don’t have rules, it’s just that those rules are not often comprehensible to others. Also, what does it matter? It matters that I am writing a novel with a lot of names in it, so how much sense the names make could potentially drive a reader nuts.

You get a name at birth and that is always your name–unless you change your name, but that strikes me as incredibly mind-boggling. I mean do it if that’s your jam, I don’t think it’s wrong or bad to change your name, I just don’t understand how anyone copes with, for a certain number of years being one name, and then later another.

This bafflement on my part is in turn baffling to others who know me well, because for the first 27 years of my life I went by “Becky” and then switched over to “Rebecca” after that. To me it makes sense because my name was actually always Rebecca, Becky just being a nickname for Rebecca. It was just that no one called me that–parents, other family, high-school, university friends, teachers, everyone called me Becky but I knew myself to be Becky or Rebecca interchangably and I did not find it a major switch to start introducing myself formally as Rebecca. I felt I was old enough to carry the three syllables, and I wanted less dissonance between my written and spoken worlds (I have almost always written under Rebecca). Many people could. not. deal with this change, and that also makes sense to me–see below–so I stopped asking family and friends who had known me prior to age 27 to call me Rebecca. So now all those folks know me as Becky, and everyone I’ve met since–grad-school friends, work friends, people in the writing community, and notably my husband and everyone he’s introduced me to–call me Rebecca. This makes perfect sense to me, no confusion at all, the way you wouldn’t be confused if someone pointed at a piece of furniture you call the couch and said, “Want to sit on the sofa?” Rebecca and Becky are synonyms, synonyms for me.

I am extremely respectful about given names and nicknames, and I am always careful to call someone exactly what they introduce themselves as. I would never presume the privilege of using a nickname, even though I love nicknames, unless I were invited to do so. This also causes some confusion, as the various Jennifers I work with are all occasionally referred to as Jen. I never did that, because I wasn’t invited to–I wouldn’t be happy if someone went rogue and called me, say, Bek–and they all thought it was weird. The Jennifers actually got together and asked me to start using Jen, which is also weird but I feel more comfortable doing so now. Basically, I guess I think, one’s name is one’s own–nicknames are at the owner’s discretion.

Although if you ask me to call you by a nickname, or ask me to GIVE you a nickname, I will be very happy to oblige. Something that makes me happy is that way back in the 90s, my friend Karen complained that she didn’t like any of the nicknames available to Karens, and I thought for a while and suggested “(W)ren”–the second half of her name, and also she is small and birdlike. She still uses it! I got the same complaint from an old workmate named Taylor and suggested Lori, which she liked but I don’t know if she still uses.

So, I’m down with nicknames. HOWEVER, it blows my mind when someone changes their name to a completely other thing that has no relationship to the original name. How I see these two categories of change as so different I have no idea, but there you have it! Seriously, when people change their names at marriage (the reason most of those I know who have changed it did so) it takes me YEARS to get it straight. There are people who have been married over a decade that I refer to occasionally by their maiden names (is sexist terminology? I feel like yes.) I mean no disrespect, I’m onboard with the idea of the name-change, it’s just that I can’t process it properly.

One of the great things about being a writer of fiction is that I have access to and control over tonnes of names–which is good, because my husband would never let me have enough cats to use all the names I like. I don’t have a science to how I name characters, though if you read a bunch of my work you can notice certain preference areas. I once got a baby name book with the idea that I would read through it and find new kinds of names for my characters but that did not pan out at all. Usually I just think about a character until a good name pops into my head and that’s that. I almost never change a character’s name once I’ve decided on it, which is why in my last book there’s a not-so-great fellow with the same name as my husband. Sorry, Mark-the-husband, Mark-the-character showed up first and I just couldn’t unname him.

And while I’m listing my naming oddities, I should mention that I can’t use generic terms of endearment–my husband and I call each other by the names on our birth certificates. I can’t explain this anymore than I can the rest of it–maybe it has something to do with how if anyone can be “baby” or “sweetie” than perhaps no one is? And this rule does not extend to the cats, to whom I regularly refer as “sugar plums.”

I also do weird things with nicknames in fiction–many’s the editor who has come back to me with a “correction” that a character is flipflopping between or among names. In truth, it’s that someone could be referred to by different nicknames by different people, but that’s a pretty hollow truth if no one understands and just thinks the story is sloppy. So I wind up changing it–in my forthcoming book, Julianna is almost exclusively called that, and I took out most of the use of Juli and Jules. This is sad to me, but it is important not to baffle the reader with my personal quirks.

Similarly, my editor pointed out that two characters have very similar names and readers might get confused–could one change? My instinct was “absolutely not.” It’s one thing to use a nickname or not and it’s another to give someone a name he never had before!!! Despite the fact that it’s an easy change to a minor character, I am a fragile point with the manuscript and I honestly didn’t think I could look at it with the wrong name in there.

I was being, as you’ve no doubt been thinking, an asshole, so instead of stating the above, I said I was going to leave the old (right!) name in place until the last minute before I hand off the manuscript–then I’ll do a global search-and-replace with a new, yet-to-be-determined name, and send off the ms without looking at it again. Which is clearly a batshit thing to do, but shouldn’t inconvenience anyone but possibly me, which is fine.

Next time you think an artistic type person is being eccentric just for the sake of it, please rest assure, I’m annoyed by me as anyone else. But I’ve had this quirk all my life and at the end of an exhausting edit is just not the time to rehabilitate it. So on we go–

Rebecca (Becky)

December 23rd, 2010

Reverb 23

Let’s meet again, for the first time. If you could introduce yourself to strangers by another name for just one day, what would it be and why? (Author: Becca Wilcott)

Excellent question in general; for me, though, irrelevant, because I think my given name is just perfect and am exceedingly vain about it. I don’t even like terms of endearment–Rebecca or Becky or even RR is preferable to me to generics like “honey,” “sweetie,” etc.

However, Scott once pointed out that, as I am a rose, my evil alter would necessarily be a thorn. “Nina” is the name I use when I need a pseudonym (don’t get excited; usually has something to do with a videogame), so I do think if I ever turn evil, I would probably use “Nina Thorne.”

It’s good to have a plan for a life of evil, just in case.

December 8th, 2009

Not by any other: on names and naming

I have stolen a rose. It is in a glass water on my kitchen table, and I look at it as I eat breakfast. It’s pretty and I like looking at it, but I also feel a little guilty. I’m pretty sure no one misses it, but it was still not my rose to take.

Except there is a part of me that feels that all roses are mine. Because of my name, you see: when I see a rose, a tiny part of my brain says “mine” or, sometimes, “me.”

I identify very very strongly with my name. I have a strong interest in all the other Rosenblums in the world, of which there are not that many. There are more Rebeccas, and I always enquire after them if I hear the name mentioned–I want to make sure they are upstanding women and not doing anything under the aegis of Rebeccaness that might sully our reputations.

But I am willing to admit that their ways of being Rebecca, whatever they are, become the definition of Rebeccaness in their context. Names are tautological–whoever you are, that’s you! For that reason, as soon as I know a person slightly, I have no trouble keeping him/her straight from other people with the same name: the personality hooks into whatever the person is called (at one point I knew 13 Jasons). I have never met a person whose name didn’t seem to me to suit him or her; everyone simply becomes the embodiment of that name to me.

The only people whose names aren’t a simply tautology to me are, ironically, my parents, because I don’t know them by their names (although of course I know what they are). I have been known to obliviously introduce them as simply “my mom and dad,” and leave them to give their proper names themselves, which in fact sound strange to me, though I don’t honestly expect people to address my mom as “Rebecca’s Mom”–I just forget that that’s not actually her name.

I have known people who changed their names when they married, when they immigrated, when they broke away from their families, or when they began writing. They seem just fine with the change, learning to identify fully under the new rubric. I imagine that must be a huge transformation of self, a serious mental and emotional change. It’s enough for me to even remember to call them what they now want to be called.

So I am not one of those authors who takes great joy in researching names, keeping lists of cool names, or matching the meaning of the name with a character (my name means “bound”–not even close). To me that’s not how names work: the person inflates the name with his or her being, not the other way round. Because real people come to me with names in place, in my mind so do characters. I generally think of an appropriate name within the first few paragraphs of writing about someone, and then that’s it–it becomes who they are. I almost never alter the names of characters once I’ve been writing about them for a while, and though maybe I can fiddle with a minor character’s name if she’s only on the page briefly, the characters I know well would disturb me greatly by another name. It would be as if my mom suddenly demanded I call her Barbara.

So the fact that I now need to change a character’s name is making me bonkers. It’s a coincidental reality/fiction overlap, and since I have no wish to edit reality, it’s fiction that’s going to have to take the hit, so as to avoid confusion. I thought I would avoid upsetting myself by writing the story with the original name in place and then search’n’replace it right before submitting the piece for publication–I wouldn’t even have to see this alien name on the page for very long.

But my attempt to pull this clever trick on my own brain isn’t working: now that I know this guy isn’t keeping his name, he’s shifty on the page whenever I try to write about him. “Who are you?” seems to be my question for him, although I thought I already knew. It’s really slowing down the writing, as I stare at the paragraph where he drinks the soda and think, “As Paul took a sip of his soda,” “As Nick took a…” “As Dave took…” We can’t spend 20 minutes on the soda-drinking paragraph!! It’s only two lines long! This problem remains unsolved, and in progress.

I love my brain–it is a very interesting place to live, but sometimes I wish it were just a little more flexible. Even my father, who has been living under the Rosenblum rubric the longest, is baffled by my enthusiasm, and claims to “not really think about it.” He does sometimes give me roses, though.


March 2nd, 2009

"Rebecca" in Japanese


I look a little bit older

February 17th, 2009

Rose-coloured Reviews *Once*

It seems small and petty to complain about random coincidences. Yet, small and petty as I am, I did wish that the year prior to my book being published, there hadn’t been a a major motion picture that everybody loved with the exact same title. Indeed, one of the (many) great joys of my little book gaining a little fame is that, when someone asks me the title and I tell them, *sometimes* they say they’ve heard of it or they’ve read a review, rather than, “Oh, like that Irish move?” Someone once even asked me if I was writing a novelization of the film (no, but is that gig still available?)

It was a similar pettiness that prevented me from seeing the film for over a year, but now I have and I’m feeling a lot better, because the other On(c)e is nearly as good as everyone says it is, and it’s pretty clearly a different animal from my book. *Once* the movie is about a Dublin street guitarist/vacuum-cleaner repairer with a broken heart, and the Czech flower-seller/pianist who inspires him with her love for music: his, Mendelssohn’s, her own.

Music is the core of this movie–when our stars plays as song, they play the whole of it, and we get to see them work through ideas, chord patterns, melodies and lyrics to make some of the music from scratch. It’s interesting to me that most of the blurbs and press on this film call it a “musical”–to me, the songs in a musical replace dialogue and are non-diagetic–the characters don’t acknowledge that they are singing, and the accompanying instruments are not on-stage.

To me, *Once* is not a musical; it is a movie about music, the same way *The Thin Red Line* is a movie about war and *Bring It On* is a movie about cheerleading. All the songs are sung by characters as songs, though of course as well-written and subtle a movie as this allows their emotions about each others to creep into the song lyrics. And all instrumentation is diagetic, too–there is a truly great scene where the girl is challenged to come up with lyrics for the guy’s music, and wanders the streets singing possibilities over the tune in her discman.

The music is amazing, and when people get done telling me that at least my book has a great name, they usually tell me that the songs in the film are what they remember. It is a true joy to get to hear these pieces in their entirety, and the music resonates more and more when a song recurs in the film, and the lyrics resonate with where you heard them last time and what’s happened since. These are the highest elevation of gentle acoustic rock, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I wound up buying the soundtrack.

If I were to write a novelization of this film, I couldn’t include the music and so, I think, that book would be about 20 pages long–not a lot happens in *Once* other than music, chat, and pitch-perfect awkwardness between two people who like each other but have a lot of problems. I have to admit, I’m stunned at how universally, unequivocally positive all the reviews are, since I myself quite liked the movie, but I was a little bored.

It’s less than 90 minutes, and all the characters are charming, but there’s little conflict and not a lot of action. There is a simple truth to the film–the characters have zero money and a fair amount of sorrow in their lives, and yet they are kind to their families, hopeful for their futures, passionate about their art. And they ride busses and carry courier bags (their is a spectactular frolic on the beach where everyone has their courier bag firm strapped to their torsos–that is my romantic urban fantasy!) *Once* makes the streets of Dublin look both quotidian and sunlit magical, but there’s a lot of sitting around, fiddling with guitar strings, making conversation.

A film–a popular film–at such a leisured pace is something of an achievement, and maybe it’s only my Hollywooden mind making me yearn for someone to make a bold gesture or statement. Another problem I had with *Once* that’s likely limited to me is that I had a terrible time with the accents–I actually missed a good bit of dialogue because of it. I kept thinking I was not making out the main characters’ names, and was relieved when I got to the end credits to find them simply billed as “Guy” and “Girl.” And that, too, is an achievement–the filmmakers make us (well, me) care about these characters while giving us only the sketchiest of backstories and not even names to hang our care on. And if you’re me, with 30% less dialogue, too.

And the ending, the ending blew me away because that just doesn’t happen in American films, and it was both genuinely moving and genuinely true to how human beings are. So, though I was a little bored at times, and a little confused at others, I have to give the other On(c)e the A grade, and concede that, if I have to share the name, this is a film worth sharing with.

Get out of bed / you little sleepyhead

January 7th, 2009

On Alert

There is nothing like the vertigo you experience when someone says, “Hey, I read that thing about you,” and not only do you not know the thing they are referring to, the information is in some tiny way incorrect.

Most people will twitch violently if they see their name misspelled on *anything*, including a *TV Guide* subscription sticker–any representation of self ought to be as accurate as possible. Of course, that way lies madness–how long, exactly, are you willing to stay on hold with the *TV Guide* people? But one likes to at least keep track of what’s being said.

Hence the incredibly self-absorbed step of setting up a Google Alert for my own name–I just like to know. Mainly, the alerts contain my Rose-coloured posts, articles and reviews I would’ve heard about in other ways, and the occasional negative thing that no one wanted to mention to me. I also see the odd gem that I actually wouldn’t have seen sans alert. Love it!

A random bonus to the whole alert thing is that I set it up wrong, for only my last name rather than first-n-last, so I get notices when *any* Rosenblum does anything. I’m not innundated, there aren’t that many of us, but actually, I didn’t know about *any* of these folks before the Alerts, so it’s kind of fascinating and impressive to see what others are up to:

Michael Rosenblum is an innovator in TV news.
Mort Rosenblum is a journalist who wants to save the world.
Matthew Rosenblum is a composor and professor of music
Walter and Naomi Rosenblum are photographers
Mary Rosenblum writes mysteries and science fiction novels.
a whole bunch of Rosenblums make wine (I’d actually heard of those guys before–it’s a pretty respected winery, I’m told)

I’m not related to any of these folks, or at all familiar with their work, but it is nice to know that they are out there, doing the name proud.

I wonder if this post will turn up on *their* Google Alerts, and what they’ll think about that?

Except for the drilling in the wall

March 1st, 2008

"Naturally Unpopular"

“Auchincloss was a disaster from the start. He had no friends. He was a failure both as an athlete and a scholar, but, more than that, he was, as he later put it, ‘naturally unpopular,’ possessing that indefinable but unmistakable quality that signals to his peers that a boy is to be ostracized and tormented. He was sneered at, called Rebecca for the Jewish appearance of his nose, kicked and shoved.”
–From “East Side Story” by Larissa MacFarquhar, The New Yorker February 25, 2008

So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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