Picking out names for the children we don’t have


Annie Mae when we adopted her six years ago

As I was walking at the beach with my dog the other day and talking to her, as I often do, I called her by her full name, Annie Mae Lick. Suddenly I realized that could have been the name of my human daughter. Annie Lick. Sounds good, doesn’t it? It would honor my Portuguese grandmother and great-grandmother, both named Anna Souza. Lots of people called my grandmother “Annie.”

To be honest, I named my dog after a red-haired TV character. Later, I remembered that that was Grandma’s name.
When I pictured my own daughter with that name, I wanted her so bad. She would be grown up now, and I would love her with all my heart. Maybe, like my beautiful niece, she’d look just like my mom, and we could talk and share our lives.
Names. One of the profound things about having a child is naming the baby, giving him or her the identity they’ll carry all their lives. In many religions, the name is part of the baptism or christening ceremony. It matters. Sure, they might shorten or change their names later—my birth certificate says Susan Gail Fagalde—but to you they will always be that person you named. That name will contain their history, their heritage and the love with which it was given.
I named my dolls when I was a kid. I named my first car (Bertha Bug). I named my pets. These days, lots of people give human names to their cats, dogs, monkeys and gerbils. Instead of Spot, Blackie or Rover, they’re Molly, Annie, Harry or George. Why do we do that? Do we see our pets as more human than animal? Do we want to pretend they’re our children? Or do we just have no other use for the names?
As a writer of fiction, I get to make up names for my characters. It’s fun and a little daunting. The name needs to fit the character, be easy to pronounce and distinguish that character from all of the others. What if Scarlett O’Hara had been Judy Smith? Or if Ashley Wilkes had been Jake McFee? Not the same. I also have to be careful about using real people’s names. I once had to change the name of my bad guy because there was a real person with that name who might want to sue me. In my novel Azorean Dreams, my main character’s name is Chelsea Faust. To my amazement, several real Chelsea Fausts have written to me. Luckily, they were flattered.
My writing gives me a place to name people, but I will never get to hug those people, never get to cook for them or help them with their homework. They’ll never come looking for me, calling, “Mom!” They’re just words on a page.
Annie Lick. What a great name.
How about you? Do you have names you wish you could give to your children? Or your dogs?