Sunday, April 24, 2011

Idea Garage Sale: Name Games

This was a gaming character; but the solution applies across media.

I knew her role. I knew, roughly, who she was. Seventeen, affluent and ashamed of it, a wannabe witch, with a part-time job at the occult bookstore and a notebook full of bad poetry. I knew her stats. I couldn't see her face or hear her voice. I didn't know her name, only that she uses a nickname instead.

So I called M, who makes his living writing names in gold wire. He's the best he is at what he does. Weird spellings? Hyphens? No problem. Diacritical markings? Apostrophes? No extra charge. Arabic, Cyrillic, Kanja? Give him a model and a little extra time. Rings, bracelets, necklaces, anklets, 12-karat gold filled, guaranteed not to turn or tarnish for the lifetime of the wearer.

For over 30 years now he's been tracking fashions in American nomenclature, far more thoroughly than the Social Security Office. Social Security will only tell you how popular a name is. M can tell you whether it's used by upwardly mobile blacks, downwardly mobile whites, third-generation Mexican Americans, first-generation Ethiopians, Houston families who bleed oil, fantasy geeks, or radical Mormons. He can tell you how old the kid who wears it should be and what societal freight it loads upon their shoulders, and how it varies with the different spellings.

He listened to what I had to say, and said: "Haley, either spelling. Brittany - Amber is a little old - the old standards, Mary Susan Jane - If you named her Haley her mother could call her Halo!"

"And she wants people to call her Comet," I said.

And there she was, using different colored contacts to disguise her blue eyes, dying her baby-blonde hair red with orange tips and completely failing to bring off the comet effect, ditching the car she got for her 16th birthday and the laptop and the Ipod in order to ride a secondhand bike to the bookstore and write her poetry (really, really bad poetry; I'll have to write some) in a composition book. Upside down.

Sometimes, it's really that easy.

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