Loz (lozenger8) wrote,
Loz
lozenger8

What's in a name?

I think Shakespeare got it wrong. A rose by any other word may smell as sweet, but it wouldn't be a rose, would it?

There's a history of (mis)naming in one of my fandoms - due South. When Ray Vecchio first left and Ray Kowalski appeared, some fans were... disgruntled. Not every viewer warmed up to the "new" Ray, and wanted to distinguish him from Vecchio as much as possible. This new Ray needed a new name, surely?

It just so turns out that Ray is not Kowalski's first name. In a twist of dark humour (which I attribute to Paul Gross - who had taken over some of the writing and the executive producing), new Ray was Stanley Raymond Kowalski. His father was a Brando fan, he liked Steve McQueen. In not being a Brando fan, new Ray introduces himself as Ray and (the Kowalski-liking) fandom gave him the appellation RayK to lessen confusion between the two due South Rays.

However, to the less RayK-enthused audience, RayK became Stan. And this is where my argument starts. With the non-existent character Stan. Because RayK fans, on the whole, more than anything, detest Stan. The general consensus is that it is an offensive thing to call him by this name. RayK is not Stan - he is RayK. At no point is RayK referred to as Stan in the show, and he is only referred to as Stanley by his mother being motherly in that 'say his full name' way and Ray Vecchio in a moment of cruelty. Stan belongs in the ether.

There are many reasons Stan is offensive, but one is the connotation that Ray Kowalski is not fit to be a Ray - that there is One True Ray, and he ain't it. Another reason is that "Stan" is canonically invisible. You could argue that "RayK" is also not entirely canonically correct, but sometimes you need to compromise.

What's in a name? A whole lot, as it turns out. The world's finest writers are aware of the power of names. Dickens was particularly adept at creating names which sum up his characters. He knew which sounds and word associations worked to give readers an instant mental picture of personality and perception. He knew that a name is language, and language is power.

Identity, both individual and collective, begins to be constructed through what we know of a person - and often one of the first things we know about a person we first meet is their name. There are several names I associate with distinct traits, flaws and virtues because of people I knew who had those names. There are heavily stereotyped names - such as Dwight or Tiffany. Parents often spend months agonizing over what to call their child. A lot of names have cultural and ethnic connotations.

When it comes back to fandom, we discover that names can be vital in helping us understand those individual characters we love or hate. Rodney from Stargate: Atlantis could not be anything other than a Rodney to me. At a stretch, he could be a David, but this is because I am aware of the space between role and actor. Sawyer in Lost is Sawyer, not James Ford - it is the name Sawyer which defines him for the viewer, it is the rejection of his real name which is a point of interest. In Futurama, when it is revealed that 'Fry' and 'Leela' are their surnames, not birth names, other characters are shocked and confused. I recently made a very deliberate point of playing with the name of one of my favourite characters - Life on Mars' Gene Hunt - for comic effect in a story, because I knew how this name automatically informed how I view him (Hunt is reminiscent of something primal, Gene brings to mind the word 'congenial', but means 'well-born' - he's a mixture of these and more).

Not remembering the name of a character can often mean they made little impact on you. It could also mean you have a faulty memory. Mostly, it indicates that the character or the name is not very important in the grand scheme of things. Sometimes, not knowing a name or not having a name can be just as powerful, however, as we see in the Sergio Leone trilogy with Clint Eastwood as The Man with No Name. Not thinking a character's name is apt is often a source of confusion. Trying to give characters nicknames in fanon can be seen as deadly (Sevvie Snape, anyone?) Having troubles naming can sometimes by emblematic of deeper issues. Getting it wrong can cause untold pain. When writing, it's vital to be careful when you're naming characters. In fannish life, it might make do to be careful when thinking about fandom characters and what their names actually mean to you.

This isn't likely to be new to anyone, but it had to be said. The general premise here is that names and the ways these construct character are significant - sometimes overwhelmingly so.

And for the love of all that is sweet and Mountie-like - call him RayK.
Tags: due south, writing
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