Friday, April 13, 2007

What's In Your Name?

Growing up, I always hated my name. I hated the sound of it, especially when my deaf mother called me. Her toneless uttering made my name sound like "retard." Classmates mispronounced it—sometimes on purpose. It was misspelled a lot: Pita, Reta, Reba. I asked my dad why he christened me with such a horrible name. He told me that he wanted to name me after one of his favorite starlets, Rita Hayworth. At the time I didn’t know who she was. I was infatuated with Shaun Cassidy and Parker Stevenson, and I was trying to train my hair to feather like Farrah Fawcett’s. Rita Hayworth meant nothing to me. Years later, when I did find out who Rita Hayworth was, I decided I must have been a big disappointment to my dad.

Through the years I tried to establish my own identity. Amongst my friends I tried out different names and nicknames—anything to get away from my horrible sounding real name. I dubbed myself with exotic sounding names. But alas, being glamorous or exotic was not in my future. I was destined to be a nerd, no matter what I called myself.

In my junior year of high school, I started using my middle name. My favorite cousin, Lou, criticized my name change. “Marie” sounded so common, not exotic like “Rita,” he said. My teachers were as resistant to my name change as Lou was, but mainly for the sake of consistency. To new people I introduced myself as “Marie.” Eventually my friends stopped correcting themselves, and my dad came around as well.

I looked up the meaning of “Rita.” It is a derivative of the Greek word, margaritos, which means “pearls.” Hmm. Greeks and pearls are exotic. Pearl has a nicer connotation than my middle name, which is a derivation of “Mary” which means “sea of bitterness.” Maybe it was better to have a name associated with jewels than to have one associated with the ill-fated Marie Antoinette.

Close your eyes for a few minutes and think about your own name. Then freewrite or cluster for fifteen minutes. Before beginning to write, ask questions. How did you get your name? Is there a story behind it? Was it passed through family generations? What does your name mean? Look it up in a baby name book or search it on the internet. Do you think your name is common or unusual? What famous people share your name? Try this exercise when you create story characters.

Here’s another exercise. Write all the letters of your name in a column, giving each letter its own line. Beside each letter, write the first word that pops into your mind beginning with that letter. Don’t linger too long. Don’t worry about the spelling or whether it’s a noun, verb, or adjective. If you get stuck, move on to the next one. Go back to it when you’ve finished the others. When you’ve finished, set aside the exercise for a few minutes. After you’re break, set your timer for ten or fifteen minutes. Now do a freewrite using as many of the words you’ve jotted. Use them in any order. This is a variation of a random prompt generator. Use this with any name or any word.

As always...have fun with it! Please feel free to share your name stories and/or freewrites!


Shawn Powers said...

I've always disliked my name as well. Most people think that I didn't like "Shawn" because it was the feminine of "John" -- but really, I never liked it because there's no nickname for Shawn.

Michaels have Mike, James has Jim, and Robert, well Robert gets to pick from half a dozen variations.

Shawn. Nada.

It seem silly now, but as a youth, the lack of nicknameability really bothered me. :)

Rita Marie Keller said...

I love the name Shawn! It sounds very Irish. Since you couldn't create a nickname from "Shawn," did you have nicknames that had no relation to your name?

Karin said...

Your name = Identity. Perhaps that´s why it hurts when someone doesn´t pronounce your name correct or when the name is altered.

Rita Marie Keller said...

Thanks Karin! Very insightful!