In my creative writings courses they’re constantly telling us, “Find your voice”, and there are plenty of good writing exercises that can help.
One of my favourites involves telling the story of your name; where it comes from and what it means to you.
You may want to try it for yourself. I sure had a lot of fun with mine:
As a child, thinking about my name and who I was named after was always a bit of a traumatic experience. Even today after carrying it around for fifty years, I’m still not sure I like it.
“Norman, how did you get your name?”
Whenever I’m asked, for a brief moment I become a child again. A pale skinny little boy of five or six who was more than a little fearful because of what his name represented to the family.
You see when you’re little; it’s pretty spooky to know that you were named after a dead person.
The day I was born my grandmother proudly announced to the family her idea to name me after her first child; my uncle Norman. I guess it was supposed to be a tribute to her first son who died at barely fifteen months of age.
Naming her first grandson after her lost child made perfect sense to my grandmother, and in the 1960’s grandparents regularly expropriated naming rights to their grandchildren, so my parents went along without giving it a second thought.
I can remember as a boy sitting wide-eyed listening to the tragic story of my Uncle Norman. He was born with a rare disorder that caused him to grow too quickly. They say that by the time he was a year old he was as big as most three-year-olds. I was told that such quick growth is painful, and baby Norman cried constantly.
I recall feeling sad for that poor little boy who lived in so much pain for most of his short time on earth.
Ultimately as his bones and muscles grew, his organs including his tiny heart just couldn’t keep up. Then mercifully one night as he slept, his heart gave out and he was gone.
Now I really tried to see my name as an honour and a tribute, as I know it was intended. But in all honesty, as a child all it ever did was creep me out!
I mean, what do you expect? They named me after a dead kid! What a terribly morbid thing to do to a child.
Of course the inquisitive six-year-old me wanted to know what was really going on. Was I about to die soon too? After all, by my calculations I had already lived waaay longer than Normans were supposed to. And at that age I knew just enough about death to know that it was permanent.
Many nights as my head hit the pillow I’d listen to my heart beat, my lungs fill with air, and the blood swish through my veins.
Everything seemed okay, but I was often terrified by the thought of going to sleep. Would this be the night that my heart would stop just like the little boy I was named after?
Back then I would have given anything for a different name. Call me Wilbur, Adolf, Orville or Wolfgang, anything but the dead kid Norman!
Well I managed to survive those silly childhood fears. The sense of imminent danger I felt so long ago has faded into a cute and distant memory.
And despite the fact that I know better now, every once in a while late at night, the six-year-old me still perks up to listen.
As he goes through his checklist making sure that everything is physically okay, the grown-up me usually curses my grandmother and my parents just a little, and then chuckles, rolls over, and drifts off back to sleep.