Monday, September 3, 2012

The Character of Names with Lianne Simon

Faie Names—Lianne Simon

Writing a novel in which the main character is a real-life hermaphrodite presents an unusual challenge regarding the selection of names. In Confessions of a Teenage Hermaphrodite, the protagonist functions socially as an admittedly-feminine boy at times and, at others, as an immature girl. Does that imply two distinct names? One gender-neutral name? Complicating this was her—and I’m using the feminine gender pronoun here for convenience—her conversations with her reflection.

Although the protagonist struggles with whether to live as a boy or a girl, the confusion is ethical rather than existential. She doesn’t have a masculine self any different from her feminine self. She doesn’t desire to be androgynous. For her, the issue isn’t so much what her name is going to be as what her name means. Yes. A difficult concept to put down on paper. But perhaps I can explain.

Jamie was born with one testis, one ovary, and ambiguous genitals. The doctors thought that the testis might be viable, and since the parents refused to allow feminizing surgery, they put male on the infant’s birth certificate. Jameson Isaiah Kirkpatrick was sent home as a boy child.

Jamie is a natural nickname for Jameson. That’s what everyone called him. But by the time Jamie was five, only her parents meant it as a boy’s name. Jamie’s sister, and cousin, and friends all considered her a girl. After some resistance, Jamie’s parents gave in and let her live as one.

When circumstances forced them to insist that Jameson live as a boy again, her parents stopped calling her Jamie. It had become a girl’s name, even to them. To the child, Jameson was a new name—the name of the boy her parents expected her to become—a role she must play to please them. Everyone else continued calling her Jamie, pretending—with a wink and a nudge—that it was a boy’s name again.

My grandfather’s grandmother was born in Drumcoltran castle near Kirkcudbright in Scotland. The ancient genealogy books, in reference to her particular branch of the Kirkpatrick family state simply, “Thought to be faie.” Now faie is an old word, from Middle English or Old French, meaning enchanted, the implication being that my family had intermarried with the Fair Folk—perhaps the Daoine Shìdh. Since Jamie’s genetic condition resulted in her having a pixie face—like an elfin changeling, if you will—I brought an element of family mythology into the story. So Kirkpatrick was a natural choice for a surname.

Jamie doesn’t come up with any names for herself, but she does call the elfin princess she sees in the mirror Iseabail. Well, you can’t call a princess Jameson or Isaiah, now can you? And calling her Jamie too would have been confusing. I wanted a Scottish name and Iseabail was my second choice. The first, Elandil, a name that means half-elf, was vetoed as being too close to the Tolkien-owned name Elendil. So I went with my grandmother’s given name.

And actually, Jamie wasn’t my first choice for the main character’s name. I had selected an uncommon Scottish girl’s name—Maisie (pronounced Mayzee) similar to Masey, a boy's nickname for Mason—Mason Faoláin Kirkpatrick. Maisie Faie Kirkpatrick. But, just as I signed my contract, a couple in my church named their newborn girl Maisie. What are the odds? We all had a good laugh. Then I started looking for another name.

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