What’s in a Name? Part II

Shakespeare, creative writing, what's in a nameTeaching about writing is an oxymoron.

      [Oxymoron – the use of two words that contradict each other, like ‘wise fool.’]

How can I, or anyone, teach another to write?

oxymoron, writing, creative writing

A rocky oxymoron.

Well, that’s the point. I don’t offer a creative writing class to teach how to write, but to point out the importance of using the right words – to name things correctly –  when creating a story. Even more importantly, I offer small (writing) steps that each of us can use to help our pen move.

If the pen moves, we connect.  

Brain, pen, soul, body, back to pen, brain, soul equals a story worth telling.

That’s my theory, although others may debunk it.

Debunk – where the heck does that word ever come from? This is why I’m glad I don’t have the Oxford English Dictionary close at hand. If I did, I’d never write a thing. I’d be too fascinated with the word or phrase and need to look it up and study it.

Which reminds me of a 15-page essay I wrote for my college senior honors English class. The assignment? Pick a word – any word – and inspect, research, pick apart, put together, its meaning from the beginning of the word’s existence.

volcanoes.usgs.gov

volcanoes.usgs.gov

I picked W I G H T, my last name, and I studied the word the way a scholar studies rocks in ancient lava. I learned the base beginning of wight, a true English word, and I loved the metaphor of its meaning, and what that meant to me.

     Wight is a Middle English word, from Old English wiht, and used to describe a creature or living sentient being. It is akin to Old High German wiht, meaning a creature or thing.

At 20, that’s how I viewed myself. A creature, a living sentient being, a pebble just learning to become a rock, wondering how Wight, the essence of me – my name and my person -would develop through the years.

Yet, all I am, all we all are, really, is a wight. A sentient being here to become perhaps a whit more of a wight by the end of our time.

Yes, I used to think that way, back in college (and truth be told, still do).

“For [Aleyn] had swonken al the longe nyght, And seyde, ‘Fare weel, Malyne, sweete wight!’ “ (Geoffrey Chaucer (1368-1372), The Reeve’s Tale)

Thus, during that senior year when a boyfriend presented me with a silver bracelet engraved with his last name, hinting that when we married, I’d then share his name, I bolted.

Wight I was, and a wight I would always be.

Juliet: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet.” Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

Unlike Shakespeare’s Juliet, I learned then the connection I had to my name and to my essence of being.

 “She was a wight, if ever such a wight were.” William Shakespeare (c. 1603), Othello, Act II, Sc. I

And I began the slow strong journey to understanding the importance of the words we use – the correct naming of characters and settings and ideas – as we write our stories.

what's in a name?

Do you wonder what’s in a name, and do you
see a world within that word?

 

54 thoughts on “What’s in a Name? Part II

  1. I’ve long been fascinated with words and phrases. Perhaps it is all those years of Mom and Aunt Ang saying, “Look it up!” Sometimes it stops me in my tracks, as I do often research words or phrases. Slows me down big time!

    • In some ways, I believe I was a researcher of words, before a writer of words, like you. I think it helps our writing! (But yes, sometimes when a word catches our interest, like a spider catches a fly in its web, we are slowed down…!)

    • I’m trying to live up to being a wight every day, for sure. I must say, proudly, that my brother is as fine an example of a wight that I’ll ever find. Hope this entices you to find the origin of YOUR name also.

    • I bet the origin of your name comes up with some fascinating, interesting backstories. If I was a creative writer, I’d say your ancestors, way way back, were one of the first meteorologists. They forecasted a huge thunder and lightening storm that saved many lives. Thus, they were called the Weather Bolts, which over time, got changed to Weatherholt.

  2. I wondered how you came up with ‘roughwighting’ for the name of your blog!

    I empathize with the ability to lose oneself in words. Sometimes I look up a word’s meaning and origin in one dictionary, and then – intrigued – look up the same word in another, and then another. Something in a definition might catch my eye and then lead me to looking up yet more words.

    Naming characters is hard, I think. I spend a lot of time trying to come up with a name that might enhance the reader’s understanding of a character in some small way. I like the name to provide a hint as to a quality the character possesses, or be indicative of his/her location, or suggest ethnicity. This can be tricky. There are certain names that I tend to view as characteristic of someone who is flighty, overly feminine, or extremely rigid – but others might not share that sense of the name.

    I titled a recent short story ‘Cassandra’ because in mythology, Cassandra was a woman able to see events before they occurred. Because my character had the gift of special sight, I thought it might be fun to use that name. Not every reader will make the connection, but for those who do, it adds a little something to the story. At least I like to think so.

    Forgive me for going on, but I very much enjoyed your post. 🙂

    • Your comments here are fabulous. And they are inspiring me to be even more selective in my choice of names for the characters in my books-to-be. A reader of my book The Right Wrong Man praised me on the fact that my main character, Meredith Powers, was well named because she became powerful and strong during her adversities in the book. Well, I had never thought of that – Meredith’s full name had just popped in my head when I wrote the book. Funny, huh?

    • Wow, you are genetically prepossessed, it seems, to research and use just the ‘right’ word. Your niece sounds brilliant, to me. I look at the crossword puzzle and just get cross-eyed! :-0

  3. I love looking for the right word, and yes sometimes it feel a waste of time but whether anyone else ‘gets it’ it is satisfying when I find it. Love this post. Wonderful your name means this much to you. ❤ ❤ ❤

  4. I have rarely permitted my logical mind to research the meaning of a word. But, that has never kept my emotional mind from connecting with the intangible feelings associated with particular words – and they tend to surface in my writing more often than others 😉

    Quite ironically, or perhaps serendipitously (one of those favorite words), I wrote a poem this morning and found myself looking for a word in the thesaurus that conveyed the logical meaning I was searching for while forging an emotional connection with the heart. The word I found – before reading this post, mind you – was sentient. You definitely have the wight stuff Pamela, thanks for sharing 😉

    • Ohhhhhhhh, I LOVE both those words: serendipitously (that word should be in every novel I write – okay, from now on it will be) and sentient. You are, most clearly, a sentient human being.

  5. This is perfect, since I was going to ask you the source of your blog name!
    I took my husband’s name when we married, but that’s okay since both are last names are Irish. My first name was a rework of Noel, which my Dad thought was too masculine, and appropriate since I was a twinkle in his eye at Christmas – I was born in late August!
    I remember the word whight from Chaucer – did we all have to read it? Somebody already said you have the “whight” stuff!

    • Oh, your first name is romantic and sweet and a sign of fatherly love. See? A name can mean so much.
      Yes, I used to call my writing students (and myself) the ‘rough writers’ with a little Teddy Roosevelt horse as icon. 🙂 Then my students themselves changed it to rough wighters. Which I love. I’m always writing…and wighting!

  6. I wish I could take a class or workshop from you to learn how to choose the right words and to write in general .
    It would have been easy to change my first name to Linda but I did not like that and kept my first name spelling it a thousand times. I like Gerlinde and I really liked my husband’s last name when I married him. It was a perfect match for my first name.

    • I totally agree – Gerlinde is a much more romantic and lovely name then “Linda” (hopefully no Linda’s are reading this!). I also have to spell my last name continuously to people. My brother was taking some (accounting) info from me (he’s an accountant) and asked my formal home address. I began by spelling out my full name as if he wouldn’t know it. So funny – he just laughed, because he’s had to spell it out for people a zillion times also.
      I WISH YOU COULD TAKE MY CLASS TOO! We would have so much fun together. Plus, maybe you’d bring some of your scrumptious goodies. 🙂

  7. OH, I’m not the only one who gets lost in dictionaries? We had dictionary drills in school when I was a kid and I had to force myself to find just the word the teacher was asking for. Usually It would take me ages to find a word because I had to stop and read all those other interesting words. Then…wouldn’t you know it…I’d be first to find the word and get thrown out of the game because nobody could beat me. (They don’t do it that way in sports!) I’d be so proud of myself for having ignored all those delicious words then I’d get thrown out. Life just ain’t fair!

    • Ohhh, my heart is breaking for the kid-you. Not fair at all!
      We do hear of people who ‘read’ the dictionary from the beginning to the end, like reading non-fiction. I get that. And I’m sure you do too.

  8. Well, you’ve done it again. You’ve woken my mind to abstract thoughts. So, when you mentioned debunk, my mind pondered that word and quickly came up with a definition. “Debunk”; “to get out of bed.” Now with my surname, Rauw, although I’ve never researched the roots or any obscure meaning, I’m sure it’s not as rich as Wight. To my knowledge there’s not an Isle of Rauw. However, as a root for a grade school nickname, Rauw was easily converted to “Cow Rauw”, since Rauw rhymed with cow. That’s my heritage and I’m sticking to it! I’d rather be an Easter Bunny than a cow! Sorry, an inside reference that only the Wight people would understand! 🙂

    • OH, you pun-er you. You know I live with the world’s worst, oops, I mean best, pun-er, but you get first prize for Debunking out of bed.
      I looked up Rauw. I would encourage you not to, but it does admit that a Rauw is rare, and you, my fine friend, are a very rare (and incredible) human being, indeed. In fact, you are a fine wight.
      You’re a fine Easter Bunny too…!!!

  9. I love words and am obsessed with names. I knew the meaning of my name very early on. It is Old English and means “lost.” At first, I was, well, chagrined. I wanted to change my name, feeling that it doomed me. Now I love my name, realizing that lost can have positive connotations (lost is thought) and “Lorna” is unusual, which I like. When selecting character names, I have to look up their meanings. The name must fit the personality or the story of the character–names are that important to me.

    Excellent post!

    • I Love This! So you’re lost in thought a lot too, huh? You’re also probably Lost and Found, yes? I’m so glad you didn’t change your name. Lorna is so unique (another good connotation of your name and the character that makes up YOU). Isn’t this fun?

      • Absolutely! Fun and full of possibilities. I once met another Lorna in, of all places, a Buddhist meditation class. It really threw me off. I was so resentful of her and didn’t even know her. Thank goodness she didn’t come very often. I really learned a lot about myself and how much I treasure my unique name–not all good, mind you. I was ashamed at my negativity toward the poor woman.

  10. Love this! And now when I see you dancing I will think to myself, there is that graceful wight! Too bad about the boyfriend. I changed my name when I got married mostly because it was more important to my husband that I have his name than it was to me to keep mine. Both belonged to men as far as I could tell. Mine was Marmo, marble in Italian.

    • Oh, you keep me honest, my dancing conductor-teacher. Yes, all of our last names belonged to men first, but we are womanizing those names, feminizing them in the best way.
      As I dance ‘gracefully’ (lord help me), I will watch you, a movable amazing marble of light.

  11. That’s so interesting to discover what your surname means – and it’s a great surname. My surname has a meaning too, sadly nothing as cool. It often meant ‘village idiot’ a few centuries ago… 😦

    • Well, I find that Jean back in c.1400, comes from Latin excellere “to rise, surpass, be superior, be eminent,” so double that in Jeanjean, is beyond excellence. True, later in the 1500’s Jean could mean ‘”strange or abnormal individual,” but again, that’s only positive, for a writer and a wight (a living sentient being). I think we have a lot in common!

      • Now, I like your definition much better than mine. I shall now go around telling people that my name means ‘beyond excellence’ 😉 And you’re totally right, being strange and different can only be a good thing for both writers and wights. Here’s to us weirdos then! 🙂

    • SO fun to hear from you here. Are you working on your blog? I just saw it and would love to read more. Miss writing with you – let us know when you’re in the Boston area.

  12. It´s fun to learn the background of your name. I have had three last names and I like the one I have now best. The English surname Foster is derived from the ancient title and office bestowed upon those overseeing the upkeep and administration of hunting territories belonging to either the monarch, or bishop. My maiden name was Frisch which is German for fresh and my first married name (and my children´s name) was Glock which is German for bell.

  13. The name game. there’s the stress of us taking or merging or keeping last names at marriage, then there’s the stress of naming a child, cat, gold fish. In the end I think Pam Wight is a great pen name.

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