Writing Prompt Pit Stop: Playing the Name Blame

Welcome to Writing Prompt Pit Stop! It’s no secret that my name is different than most others, and I’ve never met another with my first name…and I get that all the time, people upon hearing my name for the first time saying they’ve “never heard that before.” I take pride in my first name now, but for at least the first 20 years of my life it was a thorn in my side…as an only child, I was extremely shy…and during my elementary school years and even during high school, it was embarrassing to have my name draw attention to me. And it did, on the first day of classes, inevitably the teacher would be calling roll…stop dead in their tracks…and then they would make an attempt to sound out my name, if they even attempted at all (this was back in the 60s and 70s when unusual names were not that common, nowadays this may sound absurd). I would slowly raise my hand and pronounce it for them, as everyone stared at me. Eventually, I did find some humor in it as my other classmates that knew me would catch on to this phenomenon, year after year, and either say it with me or they’d laugh…because friends knew my face would turn 10 shades of red.

As an adult, I’ve learned to treasure my name. Especially, as a creative person who writes and paints because it certainly does stand out. And, even though I used to blame my mom for saddling me with that name for life, I’m glad she did. In fact, in a phone conversation last week she was telling me how my great aunt warned her against spelling my name the way she did when I was born, as no one would ever pronounce it correctly. It turns out, my great aunt was right more often than not (she was a school teacher), but because of the way my name is spelled it makes it even more unique, so I’m glad my mom held her ground.

I’ve written about my name in one poem, with my first name as the title that is in the chapbook, A Charm Bracelet For Cruising (Winged City Press, 2009), and recently because of conversation in my classes with students this year I came up with some ideas for students to write about their names. In one class I have three Kaitlin’s, and even though on my roster they are each spelled different, they all sound the same – hence, when I say their name and they’re all sitting in the same vicinity – they all think I’m talking to them. In my poem, I speak of what it’s like “when someone speaks my name/ no one else turns around.” But, I find it interesting that I will never know what it’s like to have a common name, and what that must be like to share a name….

So for your 59th Prompt(s) I thought we’d have some fun with your names or those of your characters:

“Playing the Name Blame”

1) In your daybook, write about your name. It can be your first or your last. What troubles or misunderstandings has it caused you? How did you get your name? Was it a family name, one that was put together (as mine was) to incorporate both parent’s or grandparent’s names? If you have a common name, what is it like to be in a classroom or a meeting and someone says your name? If you have an uncommon name, what are some of the things you’ve had to resort to to explain your name to others? Pick one of these questions that gave you the most traction, and write for 10 minutes.

2) Write a poem, essay, or a story about your name. You can use some of the freewriting that you got from the above prompt to give you some ideas.

3) If you write plays or fiction, you know that names are really important to your characters/protagonists/antagonists. What do you do when you’re first contemplating a character to come up with their names? Do you do research to see what their names mean? Do you associate them with someone you know that has that name? How might it affect your character if they dealt with a problem with their name?

4) What might it be like if your character (or you) had the same name as a serial killer or some other unsavory person? On the flipside, what if they shared their name (or you do) with someone really popular…a celebrity, a president, etc.? What antics or wants/needs might ensue?

5) If you’re interested, I’m always open to any sharing of your work, or comments on this blog…or you can contact me at lylanne@lylanne.com