Tag: names



When I arrived at the Good Shepherd Agricultural Mission, I was warmly greeted by a great cluster of children, each of whom hugged me and told me their name. A minute went by. Then came the first question,  “Do you remember my name, auntie?”  As a teacher, I have long known the value of remembering students’ names.  In fact, I make a practice of calling my students by name over and over again during the first few classes, because I believe that if you keep calling people by their names, other people will call them by their names too. They will remember the names, will become friends and the class will be a success. All of which is to say, I desperately wanted to remember each child’s name. But it was so hard. There were so many names to remember, and the names were so unfamiliar and even if I remembered them I didn’t say them right. Rosey and Shane and Gladys were easy to memorize. But then there was Roshni and Khushboo and Jyotika. I spent the first day fumbling around and everywhere I turned was a beautiful child looking at me and saying, “Do you remember my name, auntie?” That first night I thought a long time about the issue, and in the morning I had a plan. I went to breakfast (oatmeal over toast) with my notebook and I asked each child to write down his or her name with some distinguishing characteristic. Immediately they leapt in. Rampal wore a gray hat. Indro had a colorful hat. Ayushi had a puffy watch and Jyotika a scar on her chin. I filled up pages (one of which is in the photo). An orphanage is a communal place, and no one makes a decision on her own. There was much discussion over each person’s distinguishing characteristic. Was her nose unusual? Were eyes a particular color? Did she look like she came from Nepal? After that, every time someone came up to me and asked if I knew her name, I could at least pause and point to the notebook. It bought me some time and good will. By the time I left, I could pick out everyone pretty well, and since I’ve been back I’ve gone over all my pictures and written names on them to be sure not to forget. Just last Sunday, Rosey called me and her first question was, “Do you remember me, Aunty?” Yes Rosey, I remember you and Anthea and April and Raymond and Rampal and…”  

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So, as I mentioned yesterday, I’m writing a story about a woman who is the daughter of a serial murderer and I needed to think of a name for her. She’s very well-educated and her father, in addition to being a killer, or perhaps because of it, was a great pianist. I considered Aria, which I think is a pretty name, but I was concerned people would confuse her with Arya Stark, and also it seemed somewhat playful and I did not picture her father as being playful in any context.  Then I thought of Cosima Wagner, a woman I’ve always found fascinating. She was born on Christmas Eve 1837, the illegitimate daughter of the great pianist Franz Liszt. Her name derives from St. Cosmas, the patron saint of physicians and apothecaries. She was not a great beauty. She’s always reminded me a bit of Wallis Simpson, another interesting woman. When Cosima was a young woman she married pianist Hans von Bulow, who was Liszt’s most devoted student, but perhaps not the most exciting and romantic individual. During their honeymoon, they went to visit the German composer Richard Wagner, a very exciting and romantic individual, with certain major personality flaws. The next year they visited him again, and at the end of her visit she threw herself at Wagner’s feet and kissed his hands. As Wagner wrote afterwards, “I pondered the mystery, without being able to solve it.” A few years later, Cosima began an affair with Wagner, and had  two children with him, and when she finally asked von Bulow for a divorce he said, “You have preferred to consecrate the treasures of your heart and mind to a higher being; far from censuring you for this step, I approve of it.” On the first Christmas of their marriage, Cosima woke up and heard music. Wagner had set up an orchestra on the stairs and played for her. She went on to become a really terrible person, an anti-semite and her family became friendly with Hitler,  but in the romanticism and cruelty of her history, I felt I’d found  a good name for my character. So that’s how I came up with Cosima. Now for the last name!

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