Writers are largely preoccupied with words, rolling them around like unpolished rocks in our minds and on the page until smooth, glistening sentences emerge. For some, it can take a painstaking amount of time to determine whether the leaves on a tree are evergreen or olive-hued. My low point arrived when I had a heated internal debate over whether or not a tapenade could be “slathered.”
Despite being control-freak wordsmiths, though, we have almost no control over the most important word in our lives: our name. There’s no mental ping-pong over what we’d like to be called happening in utero, no roundtable discussion with fellow crying newborns in the nursery about whether we should be called “Arthur” or “Arlo.”
I’ve been deeply fascinated with names since I was a child—their cadence and candor, how they flit off of the tongue—and how powerful they can be. My childhood stories hammered out on a chunky Royal typewriter were filled with elaborately noir-named female detectives (Thora Marigold Dell) and anthropomorphic unicorns with Victorian surnames (Cornelius Thurston Vandenberg). A pair of Norwegian Elkhounds I raised as a child were christened with long, rambling pedigree names (Sophia Amalie Adelheide and Kristian Thor Gunnar) more befitting a royal toddler than a fuzzy sidekick.