Monday, April 11, 2011

What's in a Name?

As you may or may not know, my first name means cypress tree.

Which looks like this:
Up until about three days before I was born, my name was supposed to be Taraneh (which means song). Right around that time, my dad was reading a novel which he then passed on to my mom. Guess what the heroine's name in this novel was? If you said Sarvenaz, you win a blogger gold star.

My sister, who was born 3 1/2 years later, was named after a flower but also given a name that "went" with mine: Golnaz. That's kind of a thing in my culture. For example, my mom and her five brothers and sisters all have names that begin with 'H.'

I was named after a character in a novel and now I write them. Cool story, right? Do I think it's a coincidence? Honestly, yes and no.

I really believe that what we're named impacts us pretty profoundly. It's the sound we hear day in and day out, the sound that's associated with us. And if that sound has other meanings or histories, I think that can become embedded in us, too.

Now, I actually like my name when it's pronounced correctly. I like its meaning. I like the story behind it. And, to be totally fair, my parents had no idea they would be emigrating to America when they chose it for me. But when I was a very shy kid in school, seeing every teacher and classmate struggle with it and, sometimes, put their own confounding spin on it, did I hate it? Yes. I would have given anything to be named Mary, or Jennifer, or Kate or any other lovely and easily pronounceable name.

Or Taraneh. My almost-name which would have been shortened to the perfectly anglicized Tara. And then, would I have been a different person than I am now? I'm sure to an extent that I would be.

Naming characters is is one of my favorite parts of writing. I often think about their backstories, what made their parents name them what they did, and how it may or may not affect who they are. My main character in The Mapmaker and the Ghost is named Goldenrod--an unusual name that plays a significant part in her story.

Do you think your name has affected who you are? If so, how?


  1. Guess what I learned yesterday. The oldest (eldest?) cypress tree in the world is guessed it......IRAN. I thought of you (because I knew your name meant cypress...not because I thought you were old).

  2. Haha! True...actually, I think Sarvenaz is that specific tree! (Sarv is the generic word for cypress tree).

  3. Ooh, awesome!

    I think your name is beautiful. (Although I'm sure I butcher the pronunciation. :( )

    Growing up, I hated my name. I thought it was boring. I appreciate it much more now that I realize how few Jodis there are. (And I think my married last name -- if a very common one -- can make any name pretty. I swear I married him for more than his last name, though.)

  4. Thanks, Jodi! You're SO right about your married last name. Also, for the record, one of my fave characters that I ever wrote was named Jodi.

  5. If I had a nickel for every time I wanted a name like “Gene,” or “Melissa” (I didn’t want a girl’s name…one of my sisters just had a normal sounding name), I would have approximately $5.00. But if I had invested that $5.00 twenty-five years ago…I would do the math but well, now you know an asian who isn’t good at math.
    Growing up, the top two mispronunciations of my name were 1) Eric, and 2) “Yo, Chinese.” as utilized by Elmwood Elementary school children yelling, “yo, Chinese—pass me the ball.” Apparently in the early 80’s, all asian/pacific islander folk were just…Chinese. Not many people know this about my name, but letters from my father’s name (EUgenio) and my mother’s name (fedeRICa) were combined into the elementary-school-teacher-mispronouncing-reminiscent-of-deceased-shakespearean-court-jester-is-that-russian? handle that I go by. My parents told me that they wanted my name to reflect their parenting style: compromise, partnership, and putting the best parts of them into raising me. It was not until I was a parent myself did I understand what a crock of bullsh—NO, just kidding. The effect my name had on me during different stages of my life definitely influenced who I am now, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Unless I was named WilGraiBryDaveScott Sinchioco Guerrero.

    So I’m curious…is the character in your book a love child of Goldie Hawn and Rod Stewart? Totally ninja, if that’s the case.

  6. Dear Euric,

    I would not want your name to be any different either because that might mean that this comment wouldn't exist. And this is officially my favorite blog comment of all time.