Thursday, December 24, 2009

What's in a name?

While I was in my company's fitness center over lunch today, the television was set to CMT (Country Music Television). So while I was working on the elliptical trainer I heard a Brad Paisley song called "Welcome to the Future." In it he sings "From a woman on a bus - To a man with a dream – Hey, wake up Martin Luther – Welcome to the future…" I immediately began to wonder if this singer knew that regardless of how the name rhymes, Martin Luther (without the King) is not the civil rights hero. The Martin Luther I think of is also not the current Rebel Soul musician. Luther did, however, write a few songs, including "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." I suppose he also had dreams. Yet I don't think Paisley was thinking of the sixteenth century man who initiated the protestant reformation.

This made me think of other cases where someone famous is named after another famous person. I knew someone who purchased a hard bound copy of a play called "Dylan." He was dissappointed that it was about the Welsh poet instead of, as he had assumed, about Bob Dylan. Yet when Robert Zimmerman chose the name he would make famous, he did so to honor Dylan Thomas. I suppose that works, but there is also a loss when a name is associated with someone other than the original person.

In my book, Motherless Soul, I have a character named Glen Wiley. I named him after a friend I had, James Wiley. This friend died fairly young and that tragedy affected me while I was thinking of character names. I did change the character's first name in case he did something that Jim wouldn't have been proud of. As it turned out I think Jim would have liked Glen, so I was glad I made the choice to use his name.

Choosing names in fiction or in songs is a process that can have some subtle impacts we don't always think of when we're writing.

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