As men and women, we live for a varying amount of control. It is attractive to us in most circles of life, but some things we have no control over.
One of those things is our name. It is, in fact, chosen for us at a very young age by our parents and legal guardians, for better or worse. Once receiving your name, you will be called it more times than you can count. So you had better get used to it.
Yes, nicknames and variations will arise. I know some people who go by their middle name. I also know some people who go by their last name in most contexts. Your first name, however, seems to be the most unique and gratifying thing about ‘yourself’.
It is a sacred thing.
Our name is the primary tool we use to interact with the world. It is who we are. Our identity. Yes, there are several Sarahs, and Hanahs, and Mathews, and Micheals, but it is a common occurrence that, for each name, there is a particular friend or person that you immediately think of. When you say Noah, I immediately think of a childhood friend, while you may think of a neighbor down the street. We share our names with others, but this does not decrease the importance of a name.
I have not been able to determine whether I am quite lucky, or quite unlucky; I have been given a unique name. Or rather, a unique spelling of my name. I am lost as to why this spelling is quite so unique, as I am named after the disciple, Nathanael, from the Bible.
You know, from the Holy Word of God?
I suppose everyone else’s parents liked poetry more than biblical text, because almost every other Nathanael I meet is a Nathaniel. Out of the numerous Nathaniels I know, I only know one or two that spell it the correct… erm, the other way.
And according to the world, I spell my name this way as well.
Published flash fiction? Nathaniel. High school diploma? Nathaniel. Formal emails and notes from friends and Professors alike? Nathaniel.
It is a small detail. Just one vowel is out of place. But it drives me crazy. Why? Because I am not NathanIel. I am NathanAel.
The repetition of the third ‘a’ has significance in my character. I would not be ‘me’ without that third ‘a’. Why? Well, I am not sure. I believe that there is some heavy psychological inferences when it comes to how you say and spell your name. As this will require rigorous study and research, however, I will just go with what I know.
The first is the biblical importance of names.
Genesis 32:26-28 says, “Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.””
Jacob goes through a significant change in his character. He has wrestled with God, and had prevailed. He was no longer ‘Jacob’ because his role in the world had changed. He would bring about a nation, Israel, which would bring fulfillment to God’s chosen people.
Mathew 1:23 says, ““Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).”
Christ’s name is important here. “God with us”, or “Immanuel”, is such a powerful declaration to God’s people. All through his name.
This follows well with the second point, the importance of names in fiction.
I have a Professor who has said that “if you change your character’s name, the ground should quake underneath them.”
The changing of a name is a powerful thing. Sometimes, if you change your character from Allison to Jessica, her character demands something different. A change from Martin to Stephen will drastically change how they interact with the world.
Why? Again, there is a lot going on here that remains to be discovered.
But it is undeniable that the attention you give to names, and the attention you give your characters names are incredibly important. You can not sit back and say, “well, I like the name George, so I will name my protagonist George.” You must consider the his role in the story. You must consider the other people named George that you know. All unique and different, but all drastically affected by their name.
Even the alteration of a single vowel should shake their world, or else you are not doing justice to the characters you write.