In my new novel Graves of His Personal Liking (I thought I’d get the plug in early) the hero winters over in a Cheyenne camp. I had to come up with names for the Native American characters in the novel. Many of the Native American names we use for historical figures were actually shortened versions of the real name. Crazy Horse was actually His Horse is Crazy. Sometimes a completely different name was used. Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce name was Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain. We shortened it to make it easier for us white men. I did the same thing in my book. I could have called a character Empties Teepee When He Cuts The Cheese. I just didn’t want to have to type, “Go to the Yellowstone,” Chief Empties Teepee When He Cuts The Cheese said, every time the character spoke.
I went with the traditional western theme and named my Native American characters after things in nature such as Smooth Antelope, Rock Otter and Gray Cloud. I thought about naming one of them Possum, Woodchuck or Porcupine, but I think I would have trouble following Chief Porky into battle.
People have started naming their kids after things in nature again, kind of like the Native Americans. (And not just the crazy Hollywood people who live in a fairytale world and still think they are just common folk. “Hey, Angelina. What do you say we put on our mink coats take our private jet over to Paris for a bit of lunch, fly back this evening and do the fundraisers for PETA and Global Warming tonight?” They don’t know any better because they make a very good living playing make-believe like we all did when we were kids.) Common people are giving their kids names like, Snow, Rock, Steel, Wood, Star, Moon and Happy—Sneezy, Grumpy and Dopey can’t be far behind.
“John, I want you to meet my son, Rutabaga and my daughter Placenta.”
People have also gotten into strange spellings for names. In my life I have probably known over a dozen girls named Cindy and I think everyone of them has spelled her name differently. There is Cindy, Cindi, Sindy, Cyndi, Cindee, Syndee, Sindee, Cinday, Seenday, Cindie, Cyndie and a guy named Sidney who everyone called Cindy when they said it too fast. I once was told if you have a reoccurring minor character in a story, you should either give him a unique name or a common name with a unique spelling so the reader won’t forget the character when he reappears in the story. In my first novel, In The Sticks, (second plug, I’m on a roll) I did that, and it drove my editor crazy. Constantly, she would send me notes: You know that’s not the common spelling for that name? I guess she doesn’t talk to the same people I do.
Some people have long names. Mine is short–only four letters. When I was young I asked my mother why she didn’t give me a longer name such as Sebastian, Alexander or Engelbert? (When I started junior high school I was very very glad she didn’t name me Engelbert.) My mother said if I had a long name everyone would call me by a shorter nickname anyway, so we might as well make it a short name to start with. She also said a short name would be easier for me to learn to spell when I started school. It gives some insight into what my parents were thinking as they watched me lying in that hospital bassinette.
“That kid’s going to be dumber than a turnip. If we don’t call him something short and simple, he’ll be the last one in Special Ed to know how to write his name.”
I have two brothers and five sisters, and only one of us has a name with more than four letters. Simple names for simple children I suppose is the axiom my parents followed. My one sibling with a five-letter name is rather arrogant about it, as if my parents saw another Einstein lying in that bassinette. The length of one’s name has nothing to do with intelligence. I’m sure there was a Native American at one time named Ate His Boogers Until He Was Twelve. It didn’t make him any smarter that someone named Porky.