Behind The Name

I like names. Specifically the etymology of names. Maybe it’s name envy. Perhaps being someone saddled with a given name that is derived from the profession of laying roof shingles or tiles is responsible for this.

For this reason I usually have a hard time labeling a character that I’m creating without attaching some form of significance to their name. Ironically I usually hate it when writer’s do this because if I can quickly root the etymology of a character’s name while I’m reading or watching the story unfold, it usually pulls me right out of the action. That said, I can’t really help myself. I think I’d rather have an audience snicker at a metaphorical name than be bored by another hackneyed hero named Jack.

One of my favourite resources for researching names is website BehindTheName.com. I can spend hours there.

On a particularly trying (self-imposed) assignment, I was looking to name a husband and wife couple for a script I was writing. The thematic nature of the script teamed with the roles of these principal characters had me looking for monikers that would signify that these two were hosts, proprietors, stewards of a home which served as the main set piece of the story. That led me to my first name, Stewart, a derivation of steward. For my female lead I found a name that embodies the mistress of a house, Marta, which led me to its English derivation, Martha. Perfect names for my domestic couple.

However, my own domestic partner was no more than ten pages into the script when she chuckled uncertainly and called out to me, “Martha Stewart? Is that supposed to be a joke?”

Yup. Wrote ninety pages without realizing it. Fortunately this was an easy fix but none the less left me feeling a little silly. Names are fun, but there are obviously some perils if you’re not being careful.

Now… Is anybody else more than a little struck by the fact that domesticity guru Martha Stewart’s name actually echos her professional calling as perfectly as if it had been written for the screen? Could I be wrong about this whole entertainment thing? Maybe there’s a roof out there not getting tiled because I’ve been deluding myself!

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