As humans, most of us are given our name when we are born or within a couple days after. Some are given their name months before birth and some, for one reason or another, change their name later on in life.
My mother has a unique name, Bari-Lynne. I forget the exact story behind it but it stemmed from her parents having one name picked for a boy (Barry) and one picked for a girl (Lynn or Lynne) but when the time came my grandmother called an audible at the line of scrimmage and they hyphenated and tweaked the spelling. When my mother was having her first child, the song Carrie Ann by The Hollies was quite popular and my mom quite liked it. So, taking a page out of her mother’s book, she tweaked the spelling and hyphenated and came up with Kari-Anne.
My wife and I, like many parents I’m sure, antagonized over what to name our first child. With four parents and two grandparents still alive between us, there was no way we were going to be able to honour everyone, especially since our plan at the time was to only have one child. We weren’t keen on using a name from a popular song or celebrity personality either. The end result saw us using a combination of our initials and incorporating my wife’s maiden name as a second middle name. We felt it was a good system. For our second child, we kept the same system. My last name, wife’s maiden name as a second middle name, first name starting with “A” and a middle name starting with “J”.
That said, most of the time we refer to them as “Pants” and “Dude”, or if we’re being formal, “Pantalonies” and “Doodle”. You see, their true names evolved over time and ended up being something that fit their personalities and their lives. In my son’s case, the name on his birth certificate is the name we use the least. At a very young age, due to the popularity of his name at Gymboree, he became an initialed kid – the first letter of his first name followed by the first letter of his first middle name, so even when we’re not calling him “Dude” or “Doodle” we’re still not using his given name. So it goes.
I have always had a hard time with names. I wasn’t much of a writer for the first thirty years of my life but once I was in university I started tinkering with computers and eventually landed a job where I was responsible for naming a whole whack of them. If naming a child is hard then having to come up with names for a library of computers is downright daunting. I’ve named groups of computers as impressionist painters, influential scientists, superheroes (Marvel and D.C.), and even musicians.
Once I started writing, though, the name business got right properly serious. Much like the naming of a child, it is the name by which that character will be known to all others. Unlike a real living and breathing person, however, the name chosen would live in perpetuity, forever inked on the page never to be changed.
Character naming for me tends to start with my friends. A good deal of my characters have a first name of a friend of mine and the last name of another friend. Sometimes a nickname will be similar and sometimes I will leave a placeholder in all caps and do a search and replace after I’ve written some of the story and the character has a bit more of a personality. Sometimes the names write themselves. A grizzled and aging small-town sheriff was instantly Rusty Ford and his trusty bloodhound was named Bronco.
Since I am always writing or editing at least one book, I’m always in need of good names.With that in mind, here are a couple questions for you:
If you’re a writer, how do you come up with your names?
As a reader, to what degree do the names of characters affect your opinion of the book?
I’m going to take this opportunity to write about how awesome my kids are.
I realize that most parents say this about their kids and many of them are right. Allof them should be blogging about it. Kids who are awesome and do awesome things deserve to be praised from the highest mountains. So here’s my story about a weekend that my kids turned from ordinary to extraordinary in a span of less than twenty-four hours.
For those who don’t know, I have two children with my wife of sixteen years: a 13-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy. Through some weird nickname wormhole, these two fine little humans are affectionately referred to as “Pants” and “Dude”, which are actually short for “Princess Pants” and “Doodle”, which were actually short for “Princess Paloney Baloney” and “Mister Doodle” (he was 10 lb 9 oz when he was born and when you’re that big they call you Mister).
Anyhow, they’re great kids, but unlike a lot of other kids I know neither of them are crazy interested in competitively doing things. Pants stopped figure skating right before it got really serious (phew!) and Dude had shown only mild interest in such things – until bowling, that is (the funny thing is that we were calling him Dude before he started bowling).
This is his third year of 5-pin bowling. For the uninitiated, 5-pin bowling is done with a smaller ball (with no holes in it) and there are, appropriately, five pins which are arranged in a wide “V” shape. Unlike 10-bin bowling where each pin is worth one, in 5-pin the head pin is worth 5, the two beside it are each worth 3, and the two end pins are each worth 2. You get to bowl three balls per frame (instead of two), with the same strike and spare rules as in 10-pin (i.e. your strike counts all pins plus the next two balls with your spare counting all pins plus your next ball). A perfect game is 450.
Dude’s best score is 221 but his average is sitting around 127, which is pretty good for a 9-year-old playing with kids a year older than he is (Bantam age bracket is 7-10). This past weekend Dude went to his regular bowling league game on Saturday while Pants and I were hanging with a friend of mine (more on that later). Turns out he qualified to compete in the Zone Championships the next day at some lanes one city over (20 minutes or so by car). So, Sunday morning my wife packed him up and got him registered. Before he left he said to me, “I feel like I’m going to have a good day.”
Understatement of the year, kid.
With nine frames done in his first game he was below average by enough that it wasn’t looking too good. Then, in the tenth frame he bowled three strikes in a row for his first ever turkey (that’s what you call three strikes in a row in bowling) for a 160. His second game was a 171, followed by a 147 and a consistent 148. After four games he was 92 pins up on the next boy but fatigue started to set in and he rounded out his first five-game set with the only one below his average, carding a 124. His average over the five games was 150.
Even with the sub-par last game, his lead held up and he was crowed the Bantam Boys (Singles) Zone Champion earning him a spot at the Provincial Championships on March 6. We couldn’t be more thrilled. He keeps asking when he can watch the movie The Big Lebowski. If he wins provincials I just might let him.
“The medal doesn’t say first place, but I won, and it’s gold, so that’s okay.” – The Dude
The Dude Abides
Remember how I mentioned Pants and I were hanging with a friend of mine on Saturday while Dude was bowling? Well, this friend is a super rad guy named Jim. Aside from being an all ’round good guy, Jim is also musically inclined. He plays guitar, bass, a little keyboard, and taught himself to play the harmonica the other day – just because. Jim and I played in a little coffee shop trio called Argyle Speedo with our friend Steph a while back. It was fun. I like writing lyrics to stuff Jim creates, though they tend to be on the depressing side, whereas Jim’s wheelhouse tends toward happy fun stuff.
Anyway, Jim was taking an art sabbatical and spending all his non-sleeping time at Kwartzlab and wanted me to hang with him and create stuff one day. I asked if Pants could join us because she recently picked up her guitar for the first time in well over a year (with only 8 months of lessons under her belt) and I thought it would be cool for her to experience the creation of art for no other reason than to create art. Jim being Jim thought this was a top shelf idea and on Saturday around 10:30 in the morning Pants and I met him at the lab. He was upstairs shooting footage for a vlog and had an array of recording equipment and instruments lying around.
We just fiddled with instruments for a bit, with Jim and Avery randomly strumming stuff and me trying to figure out the cajon drum box. After a couple hours of playing some John Lennon, Vance Joy, Axis of Awesome and other random stuff we grabbed a sandwich.
After lunch, we got out the trusty “How to Write a Hit Song” cheat sheets and Avery picked a major key and a chord progression and just started strumming, Jim got the harmonica out and started playing his brand new mouth organ, and I started banging on the cajon. A couple minutes later it sounded like a song.
I was mentioning that I only wrote sad lyrics and this song needed words. Avery, rather shyly, mumbled something. I went to write it down and she was hesitant to repeat it. After some coaxing I got her to give me the line.
“I’d walk backwards to the moon if it meant I could see you smile”
I encouraged her to get more out and Jim reminded us that it didn’t have to rhyme. We played off the action “walk”. What else can you do? Run, jump, leap…
“I’d somersault into outer space if you’d talk to me for a while”
There was discussion on how to properly spell “somersault”, which distracted Jim from the rhyming. And so it went until we had two short verses of four lines each.
I’d walk backward to the moon If it meant I could see you smile I’d somersault into outer space If you’d talk to me for a while
I’d hang upside down from the clouds To see your sparkling eyes I’d hold onto you for some amount of time If we didn’t have to say goodbye
Against the music it was starting to sound even more like a song. It was a song! It was a song that needed a chorus, so back to the cheat sheet we went. Once we had chords we liked for it Jim played around with it a bit and we got working on the lyrics for the chorus.
We tried a few things and scratched out most of them, and with Jim singing them out loud while tinkering with strum patterns we landed on the following:
Backwards somersaults upside down Holding onto you Wishing time would come around So I can stay with you
Ink will fade But memories last Memories last Ink will fade But memories last Forever
We gave it a run through and decided to play around with the order of things, stitching it together thusly:
Verse 1 Chorus Verse 2 Harmonica Solo Chorus Last Half of Chorus
With Avery and I singing, me on the cajone, and Jim on his guitar we gave it a spin and it sounded pretty good. Did I mention that there were other people in the lab working on various things? This made me feel a bit self-conscious and I thought it would make Pants clam up for sure, but it wasn’t a problem. She was so focused on this song that the room may as well have been empty.
Jim then did a track just with guitar and then the harmonica solo and then Pants was up for the first vocal track. Jim said it would be weird listening with the headphones and singing into a mic but Pants, who hasn’t had a single voice lesson, wasn’t properly warmed up, and had only sung the lyrics a few times stepped up and gave it a whirl. A little off key and a little screw up on the second verse, she plowed through and got the job done!
Then, it was my turn. Jim was right about singing with headphones on into a mic. I found it really weird and after one verse immediately needed a do over. Second time through, a little off key and with the same screw up (not on purpose) on the second verse we were done.
Pants gave the second verse another shot and improved it a little, then Jim put the bass line on it (or maybe he did that earlier, I can’t remember) and crammed it all into his magic music making app and there was a real life MP3 to show for the day’s efforts. Time had run out and Pants and I had to get going, so there wasn’t the opportunity to do any of the vocal tracks over again. This concerned Pants at first but Jim and I explained that most songs she listens to have had hours and hours of recording and editing. She spent probably 8 minutes, as a first timer no less, laying this track down.
Jim has a great saying: Perfect is the enemy of done.
We got into the car and Pants looked over at me with a big smile on her face. “That was the most fun I’ve ever had. I can’t believe I just wrote and recorded a song!”
Jim did a bit of editing on the song and asked if I’d ask Pants if she was okay with the song being put out into the world. She said yes, and I could not have been more proud. I made sure she knew it, too. It takes some serious intestinal fortitude to put anything that you know isn’t perfect out into the world, let alone to do that and have all the additional pressures of being a teenage girl and wanting to fit in and be cool. Plus, the internet can be a cruel place.
After she agreed, she looked at me with a smidgen of doubt. I told her that no, it wasn’t perfect and we all made mistakes, but it was a first cut of something wonderful and if anyone wants to give her grief over it that she can tell them to stuff it.
Expect a version done by Woot Suit Riot soon, as well as improved vocal tracks from Avery and I at some point, but for now here it is…