by Brenda W. Clough
Shakespeare mavens know that the question in the blog title does not mean, “Where are you, Romeo?” (Clue: there is no comma between ‘thou’ and ‘Romeo’.) Juliet is asking, “Why are you Romeo?” Why is a person or a character named what he is named?
Names, even in real life, tell us far more than you would expect. Have a look at this: a study in which scientists can use your name to, possibly, determine your age, your job, what state you live in, even your political leanings. Some fascinating bubble charts here, showing the popularity of certain names over time!
Does this mean that your Republican hero from Decatur, Georgia really has to be named Duane Bailey? Oh, I hope not. Remember what Juliet tells us in the very next line: that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. People are amazingly sensitive about names, although IMO these people have taken it too far — Heaven ordained nicknames for just their situation. And I would never in a thousand years do this. A contest to name the protagonist? A character with whom I am going to be spending the next year of my mental life, whose every dream, digestive upset, sexual encounter and trauma from birth to grave I am going to invent out of whole cloth? I would never hand over such power to anyone; I shall reign like Alexander, and I shall reign alone.
You can’t pick the name for your hero off a list. (More football coaches are named Michael than Gordon. But not every football coach is named Michael, and there’s probably a Coach Gordon on a gridiron somewhere.) You should think about it. Ponder all the implications well, because now the big data researchers can tell you precisely why it’s not convincing when you change Romeo’s name to Duane.
My newest novel Speak to Our Desires is out from Book View Café.