What’s in a name?


When you hear a person’s name you unconsciously form a picture of what you imagine that person to look like. When I was born, my parent’s had a tough time naming me. My mom wanted to name me Constance, so my nickname would be Connie and it would sound like my father’s name. My dad wanted to name me Charlene, so my nickname would be Charlie. I don’t really know how I ended up with the name Jennifer.

Since I don’t have children, I haven’t had to have this conversation, but I do enjoy naming characters in my stories. When I am considering a character, I think about the time period of the story, their cultural background or even names that could’ve been popular at the time. Names are fun. The nicknames that can be conjured up, the words that can be formed from their initials. It’s lucky that I haven’t had kids, as I have thought up a myriad of combinations that address both mine and my husband’s heritage while at the same time being creative with their initials, I’d write them here, lest I offend someone.

This makes me wonder about the naming process other writers take and how it affects casting choices. I have been obsessed with Mr. Robot. At first the dark colors and gloomy looking picture didn’t appeal to me, but the tv was on one night and I got sucked into the story. I reveled at the diversity of the casting, but wondered why the lead character’s name is Elliot Alderson and not something to reflect more the actor’s Egyptian-American background. Or the new series Quantico and its Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra who wanted her character to be ethnically ambiguous. As actor Amir Talai tells the story , when he considered it a victory when the characters he was playing were now named Patrick or Fred instead of Khalids or Babirs.

Some are productions may be amenable to changing a tiny detail like a name, but what if that name is tied into the entire series?

As an actor I feel as though I am trapped in the same catch 22. Yes, I want to be able to be cast as anything and not to be pigeon holed as just an American Indian actor, but I don’t necessarily always want to be thought of as ethnically ambiguous as it then whitewashes me and doesn’t necessarily depict real life. I wanted to become an actor to see others like me in television and film. To help people understand that we are not all the same, but an intricately weaved tapestry, with names as diverse as its people.

What do you think of when you hear someone’s name?