Monday, October 24, 2016

Strong Names

 “All children deserve a strong name.” Bill Martin

There is a great deal of advice available to writers on the art of writing.  When it comes to the dos and don’ts of dialogue, many experts seem to agree on one thing:  Do not have the characters say each other’s name when they are conversing with one another.  If they do, it sounds unnatural because that is not reflective of real life conversations.  (Those experts obviously do not listen to the PGA tour commentators.)  I think this is an instance of letting art imitate a life situation that isn’t all that great.  I think we should say each other’s names – and often.

I learned early in my teaching career the importance of saying names aloud.  Learning and using my students’ names was one of my primary strategies for teaching.  It helped me develop relationships with my students, fostering respect and compassion.  I made it a practice to memorize every student’s name by the end of the first week of school.  There were 100 to 150 names every year to learn.  It might seem like a trivial thing but the students appreciated it.  They noticed, if after a few months, a teacher still referred to a seating chart when taking roll.  They complained that it made them feel unimportant and disrespected.

In my social relationships, I also appreciate the value of speaking names aloud.  When one of my friends occasionally says my name in the course of the conversation, it always makes me feel special.  I recommend trying this with a trusted friend.  Make an agreement to speak each other’s names at least once when you are talking and pay attention to your inner response.

Historically, when a community wanted to establish or reinforce the inferiority of a subgroup, it did so by the use of the kind of names they were given.  In fact, it was common practice for slaves and prisoners to be assigned numbers instead of names.

In the novel Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, the names of the two main female characters speak volumes about them.  Rebecca is dead and is never seen except in her portrait, yet she dominates the setting, the plot, and the other characters.  Her name is everywhere, figuratively speaking.  On the other hand, the narrator of the story – the new bride – is never named.  Throughout the entire story, no one, not even her husband, speaks her name aloud.  She is an insignificant other.  Her sad attempt to have an identity involves her appropriating Rebecca’s, with disastrous results.

I concede that writing good dialogue includes not repeating the characters’ names over and over again.  But that does not mean they must be excluded altogether.  Like a subtle hint of seasoning, the occasional use of a character’s name adds spice to any conversation.  It fosters a connection between the characters, just like it does between real people in real life.  We all deserve our names to be strong.

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