A moment of writerly hubris

I think all writers are protective of their characters. We’re told to kill our darlings, and the idea of making our characters face hardships, including death, is important, because conflict drives a lot of life. It certainly drives drama. As much as I love talking about my stories and characters, I always try to rein myself in, because I’ve realized over the years that nobody has or ever will care as much for my characters as I do. I can hopefully entertain with their stories, and maybe – if I’m lucky – I can even make a reader feel something for one of my characters, whether that’s compassion, disgust, fear, or just a simple interest to see what happens next. But, sometimes, I find myself becoming too attached to these characters.

I have – more than once, I’m ashamed to admit, mostly for the silliness of it – cringed at a misspelling of a beloved character’s name. Not everybody gets persnickety about names the way I do, probably because most people didn’t grow up in the environment I grew up in with a name like mine. For many years, I simply gave up correcting people over the pronunciation of my name, because it just seemed pedantic of me to do so. But not too long ago, a colleague asked me straight-out:

“What’s the correct pronunciation of your name? Is it MAY-you-me, or MA-you-me?”

I gave my standard answer at the time, which was a shrug and a dismissive, “I answer to both.”

He came back at me: “Yes, but it’s just as easy for me to pronounce your name the right way, if you tell me.”

That simple logic slapped me in the face, and I remember thinking, You know what? That’s right!

Nowadays, I introduce myself with the proper pronunciation, and I’ll correct someone if they give me that quizzical I-didn’t-quite-get-that look. For the most part, I let it go, mostly because I don’t want to sound like a pedantic ass. But when it happens with my characters, I still feel a little flare of defensiveness for them. Because I’m the only one who will ever care enough.

The following “Finding Mister Wright” short (link opens in a new window) came about with the pedantic ass portion of my personality in full force. I think it’s fitting, though, for the moment. And, it was fun to write, which I think is the most important bit.

“Always Daniel”
[another “Finding Mister Wright” fic – ~2100 words/7 pages]

Do you have an easy name? If not, do you school folks on the proper pronunciation? Or, do you let it go? If you could change your name, what name would you choose?

Extra question: If you read the story above, what name do you vote for, for little baby Wright? (Orville and Wilbur are not options.)

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15 thoughts on “A moment of writerly hubris

  1. My first name is easy; it’s the last name that gives people fits because there’s no “i” in my last name. But, for the most part, they pronounce it the right way. Sometimes, I wish there was an “a” in my last name. That way, there would be no mistake in pronouncing it.

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    • Most people I’ve met are more sensitive about the proper pronunciation of surnames, probably because there are so many of them, and they’re often so much about familial and personal identity. But, yeah, when they’re difficult, it just makes a person want to throw up their hands. πŸ™‚

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    • I should have specified it makes the person with the difficult name want to give up, not the people trying to pronounce it. (That weary frustration is one of the reasons I usually give up, anyway.)

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  2. My first name is actually two parts, but I grew up with my family calling me by just the second half, so whenever I went to school, people would get confused when I wanted to be called by that name when the roll call sheet said differently. So, in fifth grade, I switched to just have everyone call me by the first part of my name. I ended up spelling it wrong in front of the whole class one day.

    As for my last name, it was just as difficult. The way it’s said correctly sounds like you’re getting punched in the gut on the second syllable. It takes too much effort to say, so I just go with however other people say it. I once tried to convince people that it’s pronounced “Mighty Ass” because I was so tired of it. It didn’t catch on.

    Oh, but birthdays are the best. Family says one name, friends say the other, and everyone pauses right before the name because they don’t know which one they should use! Good times, good times.

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    • That’s a great spelling story. πŸ˜„

      I’d bet being at your house for a birthday would be a lot of fun, actually. πŸ™‚ I love hearing those mini-culture clashes pop up, just from names. πŸ™‚

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  3. I got really upset when I saw Goodreads had listed my characters as Kai Richter and Oliver Richter. Because she didn’t take her husband’s last name. She’s Kai Guhn. And it’s something that is really important to the character. I asked them to fix it and they did. πŸ™‚

    My name never gets spelled right. I do correct people. I think it’s okay to do that. If they continue to spell it wrong, I usually start spelling their name wrong. πŸ˜‰

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    • That would tick me off, too, Kourtney! Glad to hear that Goodreads complied. I guess they extrapolate that kind of data on their own?

      I think we’re justified in having a little bit of a dig against folks who continue to get our names wrong. πŸ˜‰

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  4. My first name is easy, but I find that most people hear me say “Kay” instead of “Kate” so over the years I have trained myself to enunciate the “t”. The other issue I have is with my last name, which is my married name. You wouldn’t believe how many people forget the “t” in there. Even one of my clients, whom I’ve worked with for over 10 years, still writes my name without the “t”. I tease her about it now, because clearly, she’ll never learn. πŸ™‚ Some things are just easier to let go, as you say.

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    • I wholeheartedly support such teasing, Kate. πŸ˜‰ My colleagues at work have always said my name the right way, but we’ve called each other by initials for so long, I’m now a very simple “Em” to them. Names are so important to identity, which is why I love researching just the right name for my characters…even if I tend to give up when it comes to my own. πŸ™‚

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  5. I certainly feel your pain on the complicated name. My favorite is when people or major banking establishments add a “Z” to my last name somehow. Though, I will also confess, I’ve always pronounced your name as “My-you-me”, which could very well be way off. Yay for phonetically translating things.

    As for characters, it’s only natural to get attached, since they are extensions of you. To put them through the mud and the tears isn’t easy at times. I’ve certainly felt myself being angry and Souji, , sympathetic for Ross, sorry for Imien or happy for Paige. It’s those moments we can all relate to, even if the names aren’t the same or the timing is a little different. The closest moment like that I can think of was the little oneshot I did for Wedge and his near-death experience. It’s the kind of “light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel” moment I hope waits for me.

    For baby Wright, I was thinking something like Aidan, or a classic like Christopher. I look forward to see what you decide on!

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    • Where would a Z come from?

      “My-you-me” is actually really close. The tricky thing for the English-hearing ear is that we want to accentuate syllables. But in my Japanese name, each syllable has equal emphasis. That didn’t stop my dad from saying “ma-YOU-me” all his life. πŸ˜€

      You posted that Wedge story, didn’t you? It sounds familiar. Can you send me the link? I’d like to read it (again).

      The issue I have with “Christopher” in particular is that I’ve just known so many, the name comes with baggage. πŸ˜€ I’ve actually had names for villain characters that I’ve regretted later on because I’ve met really nice, sweet people with those names…but it’s hard to get the villain image out of my head! I’ll definitely share the continuing (non-)adventures of the Wrights, so we’ll see what happens with little one number 2. πŸ™‚

      Thanks for stopping by!

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      • Yay for being close! πŸ˜€

        Well, since my last name starts with an “I”, if written fast enough of sloppily enough by someone, it suddenly becomes a “Z”. Of course, here in Germany, people try to add an “H” to my last name, which lends itself to all kinds of historic no-nos, lol

        Sure thing! Here you go: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/5766054/1/Far-From-Home

        Ah, understood. I have a few of those names on a list as well. And I know what you mean about villainous names being tied to good people. I think my favorite one of those would be “Vlad” or “Vladimir”. Such horrible historic incarnations, but people can’t help the names they are given.

        I thought your little one-shot was warm and adorable! It’s great to see Dan and Rob “old married couple” chemistry and all the thought Caitlin and Marshall are putting into a name. Have to wonder how long it took to pick out Paige now :).

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        • Yes, that “H” would add complications! πŸ˜„ Now that you explain it, I can see where the “Z” might come from in a quick-paced conversation. Still, I’d encourage you to nitpick. πŸ˜‰

          One of my most favorite villains I’ve written is Strenk, from From Hell (A Love Story). But my little cousin shares his first name, and he is the absolutely sweetest boy I’ve ever met! So, I almost never call the character by his first name, in case I’m inclined to give him a sweet side, which can never, ever happen. πŸ˜€

          Don’t you love building families around your characters? Names are part of that. Sci-fi and fantasy names are fun, but I find it just as difficult to choose the right “normal” name…as this story is proving!

          Thanks for sharing that link! I enjoyed reading it again. πŸ™‚

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  6. I’ve also pronounced your name as “My You Me,” so I’m glad to see I was close! πŸ™‚

    Ah, that sibling bickering. It rings so true in this short! I’m partial to traditional names like William and James and not changing them into other nicknames like Bill or Jimmy. πŸ™‚

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    • You’re right, JM: there is something classic about those traditional names. I wonder if the desire for having a nickname comes from not really having one growing up…and vice versa: folks who grow up with an elegant name might not want it shortened to something less mature-sounding.

      Marshall and Caitlin seemed all set on a name…and then I opened up the floor for suggestions. πŸ˜€ I’m enjoying seeing some interesting options, though. πŸ™‚

      Thanks for stopping in! Good luck with your busy September!

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