What’s in a Name?

August 3, 2011

Naming characters is part of what we do as writers, and while I have a few names that I have to constantly remind myself to not use again (I have a thing about Gabriel and Emma… I constantly have to steer myself away from those for some reason), I mostly enjoy the process of figuring out what moniker goes with the latest characters I’m crafting.

I do try hard, though, not to spell names too oddly, which is a byproduct of my own name, no doubt.  I used to joke that my parents spelled it the way they did so I’d have to spell it for the rest of my life.  And in fact, I have to spell it and explain it constantly.  So for the record it’s pronounced Nicole but spelled Nice*Ole.  That’s how I teach people to spell it… “It’s Nice and then Ole.”  I still get all manner of spellings, though, and mispronunciations… most commonly, I get something that sounds like Neecee-ole, or Nichelle, and for some reason, people will look right at my name and call me Michelle.  That one’s just weird.

I found out a few years after I moved to Pasadena from my French chiropractor that mine is the antique French spelling of Nicole, before they dropped the extra “e.”  That makes sense… my mom’s people in New Orleans are the ones who came up with the spelling.  I love them, so I try not to be too mad, and really, everyone notices it, so I guess for a girl who got involved in entertainment, it worked out okay.

For some reason, Niceole was never hard for me to spell.  But my middle name?  There were many hours spent trying to comprehend how Rachel could sound like RayChul and not be spelled Raychel.  I used to get red check marks on my papers because I was sure everyone else was wrong and kept spelling it with the “y” until finally my favorite teacher managed to convince me to let it go.

Of course, Niceole and Rachel both pale in comparison to the spelling and nickname nightmare my life would’ve been had my mother gotten her way about naming me.  The woman gave birth to me, and did so at great risk to her own life… I realize this. (My parents were Rh incompatible, and thus, my siblings and I should not exist, and yet, we do).  But had my father not shown up at the hospital in time to thwart her, my name would’ve been, I kid you not, Sacagawea.  It’s a lovely name if you are a historical figure who helped blaze a trail in the new world.  But consider it… my name would have been Sacagawea Levy.  You can see how, by comparison, being tortured with spelling Niceole over and over again is nothing.  Especially since I’d probably have massive therapy bills from growing up being called by every permutation of “Sac” imaginable, everywhere I went through childhood and adolescence.

By coincidence, at least, so says my mother, I discovered while I was in grade school that her two favorite soap opera characters were Nicole Drake on “The Edge of Night” and Rachel Cory on “Another World.”  But she swears that has nothing to do with the name I ended up with.  I’ll let you all draw your own conclusion, but I think you can guess what I think of that denial.

While we’re on the topic of names, a tip to my fellow writers… did you know that until your character is referred to by name on screen so the hearing audience has heard it, your closed captioners cannot use their name to identify them?  Yeah… I once had to identify a main character in a show as (woman) for three episodes because no one would say her name.  Just a little fact to file away for when you watch cuts of your pilots before they finish post.

So what are some of my favorites from the character names I’ve come up with?  Tops is from a short story I wrote called “How to Be a Man” about a young boy learning how to pick his battles thanks to a story his grandfather tells him about a legendary moonshine runner named Shamus Amos Jamison.  And you always had to call him by all three names… never just Shamus.  I’m also pretty fond of the lead in my pilot “Thin Air” because Emerson Carter’s name somehow conveys the weight she carries on her shoulders.

And what about my favorite character names from that long list of TV shows I’ve watched?  Here’s a few I really loved:

Frank Pembleton… Tim Riggins… Addison Montgomery… Sonny Crockett… David McNorris… Denny Crane… Jonas Blane… Miss Parker… Liz Lemon… Wilhelmina Slater…

I could go on and on.  But of course, no name will ever top one I have loved unconditionally since hearing it… a gem from my love of cheesetastic movies which may be one of the most unforgettable monikers ever:

Sho’Nuff, The Shogun of Harlem (God love you, Julius J. Carry III).

And OMG I just discovered you can watch “The Last Dragon” at Crackle — get the to the cheesetasticness!

http://www.crackle.com/c/The_Last_Dragon/The_Last_Dragon/2460332

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