I'm most recently a writer. In the six plus decades of my life, I've been a wife, mother, grandmother, Jill of all trades though mistress of but a few, and most of the time pretty content with my lot. As a much younger person, I believed I was called to write, but life and living distracted me for most of those decades. An unwilling transplant from the South, twenty years ago I unintentionally landed in the geographical center of the US. Writing came about in part due to the unwillingness, I expect. When caring for family, gardening, and renovating a century-old house failed to provide sufficient creative outlets, I turned to the one thing I always intended to do. Eight titles later, I'm grateful I found myself while Lost in the Plains!
Thursday, March 28, 2013
What's in a Name?
The reason I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name. --T.S Eliot
I might have quoted Shakespeare, as in the title, and gone on to talk about the sweet smell of roses no matter what you call them, but today I'm much more in sympathy with the cat. The importance of our names, the way others use them and even spell them, strikes me as worthy of consideration, perhaps not to the extent of rapt contemplation, but at least a good solid thought or two.
This was brought home to me last night, as it has been before, when one of my books received a very nice review in which the reader started off by mentioning me by name. (I dare say if the review had not been quite so nice, the use of my name might not have given me as much of a thrill.) In this and other similar instances, I had an immediate sense of connection with this stranger. Recently, one of my friends who took the role of guinea pig for my first draft of Hearts Unfold, asked me if I wasn't amazed by how much has happened in the past year. My answer was a resounding "Yes!" and I went on to say that it was equally amazing to hear from people I will likely never meet, who took the time to tell me they had enjoyed my work. But, I told my friend, it was even more surprising that they so often called me by name as though we had actually met. I told her I felt as though the books were making friends for me in ways I never dreamed of.
There is undeniable power in calling someone by their "singular" name, even in the case of a name like mine which it seems was given to at least one in every twenty girls born in 1952. I work at the front desk of a hotel, and I make a point to call my guests by name. I also make a point of trying to spell their names correctly, which I was taught was just a sign of respect. My husband has a habit, when giving his name, of adding "like the grape juice." It's surprising how many times the commonest and simplest of names is given an original interpretation. And it's not at all surprising that we all bristle just a little bit when addressed by someone else's name.
I've lived much of my life in the deep south, where everyone knows your name, because, of course, your name is "Hon." But I found that very quickly most people there made a point of learning my "singular" name, because once again, that's a sign of respect for each person's value as an individual. I've also lived in places where it seemed no one bothered to learn my name. I had the feeling that since I wasn't "from there" they felt I wasn't really "there." The difference in my sense of community in one place versus the other should be obvious. Home is a place where you are welcomed by name, a strange land is a place where you are overlooked a stranger.
So pardon me if I get all warm and fuzzy when someone mentions me by name in the context of a review, or emails me as "Dear Karen," or "tags" me on FB when telling their friends about a book they've just read. It touches me in much the same way to hear a reader talk about my characters as though they're as real to them as they are to me, as in "If Stani wrote letters to me like that, I'd fall in love, too!" or "I'd like to sit down at the kitchen table with Emily for one of those ham sandwiches!" That tells me these fictional characters are really "there" for the reader, someone whose name they will remember the next time they meet. That's recognition in the truest and most heartwarming sense of the word. That's what binds us together not as nameless strangers, but as a community of friends, no matter who or where we are, or how we meet.