Friday, August 6, 2010

Maddee Spills on Names

The other day I walk into a local store where I shop now and then, and meet up with a woman who is very nice but let's just say decidedly odd. She's uber tan, uses greasepaint or some such thing to tame her wild hair, and has a mustache. She's poring over photos spread out on the counter.

"Whatcha looking at?" I ask.

"My daughter just had a baby!" says she.

"Oh she's cute!" [sorta] "What'd they name her?"


Ummmmmm... what is the proper response to that?


Okay, so I have a THING about names. I love names. I soooo agree with the rest of the Pens that names should mean something, they should match the person, have the right FEELING.

Which is why, when I got divorced some years back, I decided it was time to reinvent myself with a new name. And I did. I dropped the little Swiss Girl name I was born with; traded it in for the name of an island off the coast of Morocco, of all things. Why? I was trying to give honor to my father, whose family came from there. And Madeira is a lovely place, so I've heard. Full of colorful flowers and tropical vistas and that works for me.

The problem is that as lovely a word as Madeira is, it didn't completely "fit" me. It's a little too pretty. Or a little too formal. Or something. So I shortened it to Maddee, which feels more like ME.

Little side note: the reason for the weird spelling is that I wanted to own my domain name (and is taken -- she's a romance writer). Now how many people would take domain name availability into account when naming themselves? I bow at the altar of the internet.

I know people roll their eyes about me changing my name in my 40s -- I realize it's weird. But life is an adventure, right?

I did it a little earlier for my son. Yep, he was born with a different name too -- and no, he wasn't adopted from some foreign country where his original name was hard to pronounce. He was born in my very own stomach (well you know what I mean). The thing is, we were SUPPOSED to have a girl. I was so positive of this that when my husband chose the name Quade "if" it were to be a boy I said "whatever." As far as I was concerned, it was going to be a girl named Quinn. And to make a very long story short, a boy popped out and my husband said "his name is Quade, right?" and I was like "whatever" 'cause you know how after you have a baby you're so relieved that it's OUT that nothing else really matters?

But really? Quade? Does it not sound very grownup and not unlike the hero of a lusty romance? And can anyone really bond with a baby with a lusty romance name? I couldn't take it. I had to change it. This after the official birth certificate and 100 Christmas cards welcoming Baby Quade to the world.

Christmas cards went out the next year which said: "Same baby, new name."

I should have done that after my divorce. "Same woman, new name."

Well hopefully not the same woman. Hopefully better.

So Quade became Riley. The name is much more common now, but 15 years ago, when my sweet little patootie was born, I had never heard of it. At least not until a big bald man walked into my office one summer morning selling strawberries. I bought some, asked his name, and fell in love. With the name, not him (lest you think that's why I got divorced).

(I know this man isn't bald but he's wearing a strawberry suit. A STRAWBERRY SUIT! Doesn't the internet rock?)

And now I am finally getting to the POINT of this post, which is that unlike my son, named after a strawberry peddler, my daughter was named after a character in a BOOK. And really, what could be better than that? I love good character names, love them with a passion. And when I read The Prince of Tides 18 years ago, I fell in love with the name Savannah. Like Riley, back then it was quite unusual. And the character was beautiful and had flaming red hair. Okay, she was a crazy person. But it was still a great name. So when my little sweetie was born with a head of bright red hair, how much more perfect could that have been?

Little side note #2: saying "sweetie" reminds me -- when I was married, I used to call my husband "sweet pea" and sometimes "sweetness." And one day on accident I put them together. Wait for it....

Okay back to book character names. Here are my faves of all time...

Novalee Nation in Billie Letts' Where the Heart Is. One of my favorite books, and one in which names are very important. There's a very curvy character who names all her children after snack foods (Brownie, Praline, Baby Ruth, you get the idea...).

Scout (and Atticus) Finch in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Of course Harper Lee is a damn cool name too. And Gregory Peck? HOT!

Antsy Carruth in Gar Haywood's Man Eater. I adore that name -- can't you just picture this woman?

Saxon Roberts in Jack London's The Valley of the Moon. Seriously awesome name. I would have named my daughter Saxon if Saxon Mack hadn't sounded so weird.

Troo O'Malley and her sister Sally O'Malley in Lesley Kagen's Whistling in the Dark. Troo is SUCH a cute name. And Sally O'Malley. I mean come on -- what's cuter than that?

My daughter (when she's older, please) wants to name her daughter Huckleberry. Another literary gem.

Sophie, it will be the height of true fandom when someone names their son Goat. You wait -- it's gonna happen.

xox me, maddee


Anonymous said...


You crack me up. Though, officially, I'm a bit bummed no woman has ever called ME Sweet Pea-ness. Maybe if I changed my name legally they'd... never mind.

Anyhow, your experience of how baby names worked totally different from my family. Basically, my wife and I were arguing about the name of our first-born all the way up to the hospital. Then I got that front row seat to all it takes to actually get a baby out into the new world and, yeah, it was "We'll name him whatever you want."

Not as interesting as naming him after a strawberry peddler, but hey...

Carla Buckley said...

I love the name you picked for yourself, Maddee. Talk about empowerment. And did you hear that couple who gave their kids Nazi-inspired names lost custody of their children yesterday? Names *do* matter.

Brad, my husband also subscribed to the "yikes! you name our children whatever you want" policy. Accordingly, our children all have names beginning with the same letter. It wasn't until our youngest was two years old that I realized they all end with the same letter, too.


Anonymous said...

Maddee Mack sounds like a superheroine, in the best possible way.

It's kinda cool when we apply the same intentionality normally reserved for our writing to ourselves. The most amazing things happen!

L.G.C. Smith said...

Great post, Maddee. I LOVE that you had the nerve to rename your boy and yourself. I would never have had the guts with the kid, although I might have needed to if I'd had one. My favorite names for boys were Alaric and Dylan, and Ariadne for a girl. My husband was suitably appalled with the A names, and it turns out that Dylan is one of those 'bad seed' names. You know. Where every kid you've ever met named Dylan is as wild as a beserker and not as nice. The current girl equivalent is Gabriella. This rational assertion is confirmed by my junior high teacher husband.

Of course, he's got a Mr. Anonymous name that's a burden of its own sort. Bob Smith. Brothers Bill and John. Sister Anne. It's like a wasteland for names in that family. They don't even think it's funny that they have such generic names. Then again, if you look at Wikipedia's compendium of American political families, there are Smiths of Connecticut, Smiths of Georgia, etc, and then there are just The Smiths. That's my husband's 5x great grandfather and uncle. I guess they long ago decided that they were THE Smiths in America, and haven't reconsidered since. I almost admire that sort of arrogance. Almost.

At least I didn't have to fight his family over naming a kid Alaric when he was destined to be the 6th in line with the exact same name. The upshot being, I guess, that if more mothers had the wisdom to change an ill-bestowed name for a child the world would be a better place.

Oh, and I never used Smith myself until this current pseudonym. My mother-in-law would be ecstatic.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Oh, I changed my name all through high school!

Truly, there are people who still think my name is Hyacinth. And some who think it's Evangeline. What can I tell you. I was a romantic.

Harriet, my real first name, was just hideously uncool. And, I thought, it could never be cool.

Now, a million years later, I'm thinkin'--Harriet Ryan is not a bad name for a mystery author. Hmm.

It's not half as cool as Maddee Mack, of course. (Muchas smoochas, Maddee, remember I knew your old name, too. And--interstingly--it wasnt one bit difficult to get used to the new one.) Hi, dear Pens! xoxo

Pens Fatales said...

Thanks everyone. Thank god it's not really Maddee Mack -- though that does have a "cute" ring to it. Maddee James is the real thing, and I really like the way it sounds. James was my dad's middle name btw -- I didn't even take my maiden name back (it was an oft- mis-pronounced Portuguese name). Speaking of that, Madeira is a Portuguese island, thus it really fits my heritage.

Brad, sweet-peaness (I just couldn't get myself to spell it the "real" way), you are a seriously good husband!

Carla, I love your kids' names, and how nice that your husband let you name them.

Mysti, I agree... and I'm not even a writer. :) I think that the reason I didn't feel like a complete idiot telling my clients I was changing my name was because pseudonyms are so common in our book world. Thank god.

Lynn, I got so much hassle for changing Ry's name (that's what we call him now, but it's just short for Riley which has become too common, unbelievably!!) from some people. There were people who said: "You can't do that" and I was like "um, yes I can." We went to the court house and everything. For my name change I had to go before a judge, but for his it was just paperwork. His birth certificate says "altered certificate" at the bottom. Weird! Your hubby Bob (LOVE that none of them think it's funny how bland their names are) is SOOO right: Dylan's are pretty much all evil.

Hank, the name Hank is PERFECT for you. New people expect a tough cowboy man and instead get beautiful you.

x maddee

Martha Flynn said...

Maddee, it's gotta take you to not just fake changing names BUT MAKE IT OFFICIAL! So in awe. :)

Juliet Blackwell said...

Great post, Maddee, as always. I remember when I didn't know you so well, and I heard someone refer to you as Heidi, and I said "you mean Maddee?" and he said, "yeah, whatever she's calling herself this week" and I said to myself, "I want to get to know that woman better!" I love folks who go with whatever they darned well feel like. Besides, we all have many personas, might as well have fun naming them ;-)
Great, funny article, as always! Thanks for joining the Pens!
(Oh, and I've done the same thing with Sweet Pea, but with my son, which is just...*icky*)

Rachael Herron said...

What a wonderful post. And jayzus, what a cute Xmas card that was!

evalyn said...

I hope before your daughter names anyone Huckleberry, she becomes aware of the associations to that word. And I'm not talking just about a cartoon character. Huckleberry is a colloquialism for hick.

That being said, one of my favorite names is Honeysuckle Weeks, who is a British actress.

Sophie Littlefield said...

oh, this was WONDERFUL, Maddee! and I love, love your courage to give yourself your proper name when you realized it was time. That has been more inspirational to me than you could know. I also love about you that you have a little motor inside you that goes "um, yes I can" - i think every girl should be born with one of those.

just reason number one zillion or something why we all adore you :)

Pens Fatales said...

Thanks for the comments!

Martha, it was an unbelievable pain in the ass to change my name legally -took a few months just for the fingerprinting/paperwork, not to mention the months spent changing my legal name on everything from my social security card to insurance, etc. etc. But worth it in the long run.

Julie, I'm sure that MANY people have said things behind my back about the name change but it doesn't matter to me. I don't even mind if people call me Heidi if they just can't get their tongue around the new name. I may not answer right away, but it's not like it would upset me. But I appreciate that you liked the idea enough to want to get to know me. :)

Rachael, thank you! They were super cute. Still are!

Evalyn, Honeysuckle Weeks -- what a grand name!

Sophie, how sweet! I do love the "um, yes I can" feeling -- I have had that more often in the last few years (post-divorce) than ever in my life.

Thanks everyone!

harley said...

Maddee, we are kindred spirits. I was "little Susie Kozak" (the youngest of 8 kids) for the first 20 years, and then I changed it legally to Harley Jane Kozak (my middle name was always Jane) and now there are people who grew up with me who can't recall what my name used to be.

My kids are dying to change their names. That's the only drawback. If I end up with two Tiffanys and a John, it will serve me right. Happily, they're not yet close to age 18 . . .

Jeorge Mackay said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.