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what’s in a name?

April 20, 2010

The name Henry is currently following me around.  When I started reading The Time Traveler’s Wife I was startled by it, but by the end of the book it seemed quaint and timeless.  But then I began reading The Memory Keeper’s Daughter and there, it was the last name but it sounded so wistful.  In both cases, nothing seemed more appropriate to the characters than the name Henry.  How can such a traditional name feel so fresh, new and appropriate?

It probably flows out of the fact that the characters were carefully and thoughtfully named, both time-appropriately and character-appropriately.

One of the most severe cases that I’ve come across of very poorly named character would be Natty Bumppo in The Deerslayer.  That’s a bumbling name, a very abrupt and rude name – and the character was overly romanticized, overly given to Shakespearean soliloquies and overly obsessed with ideals.  It completely didn’t fit.

And honestly, that’s how I felt about Natty Bumppo.  In the end, he just didn’t fit.  Nothing about him suited – his surroundings, his names, his dialect, his ideals, his monologues, his affections.  He was followed around by an aura of incongruousness and it rather killed the already pedestrian plot of the story.  And the awkwardness just resulted in a flat story that went nowhere.

Although if you think about it, the one appropriate thing about the name “Natty Bumppo” is that that is the most un-epic, un-heroic name I’ve ever heard.  And that is the one character trait that was actually appropriate to the “Deerslayer”.

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