Tag Archives: Names

What’s in a Name?

A tee-shirt

I bought in

Shanghai.

I think it

stands for

“I love Sue

Healy”.

In Hungary, a person gets two celebratory days a year: your birthday and your name day. I lived in Hungary for a dozen years and love marking my nameday on February 19th. And I’d encourage the same for all my fellow Sues, Suzannes, Susans, Susies, Zsuzsas, Zsuzsis and Zsuzsannas. 

I have a mixed feelings about my name, however. Sue (or ratehr the homophonic ‘Szu’)  means ‘woodworm’ in Hungarian, ‘drunk’ in French and ‘death’ in Chinese, none of which is terribly sexy. Unlike in Ireland where I was born, in the UK, where I now live, Sue is a very common name. Moreover, the moniker is associated with a generation older then myself. Nonetheless, my name is something my parents gave me, so I wouldn’t change it for anything. Issues around my name have made me quite a name nerd and as a writer, I’m very interested in the associations created by names. 

Writers often choose names to reflect a character’s traits. Dickens was king of this device and his characters’ names are often a byword for their leading trait (Scrooge, Uriah Heap, Havisham). Arguably, JK Rowling is the modern name guru, her choices instantly evocative and revealing (think of Snape, Hermoine, Minerva McGonagall, Peter Pettigrew).  And think of Hannibal Lecter, in light of nominative determinism, what person named Hannibal was ever going to be anything but a cannibal. 

Conan Doyle chose very unusual names for the unusual Holmes family (Mycroft and Sherlock). Conan Doyle’s mother came from my home county of Waterford in Ireland, and he spent summers there as a young man. I’m convinced it was in Waterford the author first heard the name ‘Sherlock’ and it stuck. It’s not an uncommon name in that county as a surname, and growing up, I knew at least one man with it as a first name. An elementary deduction really…