A Rose by Any Other Name

Post ImageRomeo and Juliet had name troubles. One of them a Montague and the other a Capulet (or perhaps a Jet and a Shark, if that’s more your thing), their love was forbidden by the very labels given to them by their families (or by their toe-tappin’, finger-snappin’ gangs, if that’s more your thing). But Juliet knew. She got it. Juliet knew that a simple label did not define her Romeo. “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Call a rose a pickle, and it would still smell like a rose. The name does not matter.

Or does it?

I’ve read of several independent experiments that tested whether the name given to an object changes the way we smell the object. Essentially, smelly things (good, neutral, and bad) would be put into bags or otherwise hidden from view and labeled. Test subjects would then read the label, smell the substance, and their reactions were recorded. What happened? If you labeled a bag of cheddar cheese as “cheddar cheese” people reacted favorably. If you labeled the same bag as “body odor” people hated it. Guess old Bill got it wrong.

So what’s in a name? If you read the results of these experiments: a lot, apparently. And I’ve struggled with this concept for two, ten, or forty years, depending on where you start counting. If you’re reading this post and you happen to be my biological mother, you might want to skip down a bit.

For the rest of the world, I have a confession: I don’t really like my name. Meaning no disrespect to the Great Charlies of the world (Chaplin, Brown, the Unicorn, …) but the name just always felt, well, a bit dorky to me. I always wanted a real name, like Mike or Steve or maybe Tom or Richard. As I grew older though, I got used to it, and I realized it was part of my uniqueness (meaning no disrespect to the other Great Charlie Hillses of the world).

But early feelings like that never really go away. Not completely. And once I realized I wanted to write, I started thinking about using a pen name. I knew in my heart of hearts that my real name just wouldn’t look right to me, given the subject matter of interest.

Take, for example, Exhibit A:


You might look at this and think nothing of it. “Hey, great book title. Hey, I like that author. I’m going to buy it.” However that’s not how I see it.

The way I see it is represented in Exhibit B:


It just doesn’t look right. So what’s a budding author to do? Well, just make up a new name, of course! Many, many great writers have, and I bet their mothers probably didn’t even get mad at them: Lewis Carroll, George Orwell, Ayn Rand, Mark Twain, Dr. Seuss, . . . the list goes on.

But there’s a catch! Before you use a pen name you have to actually come up with it, and that’s a lot more difficult than it sounds. Sure, you could pull any two random names out of a hat (for example, “Harry” and “Potter”) and run with it, but if you’re going to go to all this trouble, shouldn’t it have some real meaning? Shouldn’t it pay homage to someone important to you? And shouldn’t it be infinitely more amazing than the name you’re leaving behind?

The answers to these questions are different for everybody, of course. For me, however, after years and years and year, I’ve at long last found the perfect pen name for me:


14 Responses to “A Rose by Any Other Name”

tuscanystone said
March 11, 2010 at 4:52 am

Think Charles Dickens !!

I dont see anything wrong with your name. Ok, Charles Hills is a bit of a tongue twiser for someone with a speach impediment, but Charlie is more fun, care-free, free spirited, youthful……etc

I guess Charles is a bit more grown up?

Prince Charles!

Actually, Charlie is one of my fave names.

Tusc 🙂

TexasDeb said
March 11, 2010 at 9:24 am

I had become convinced that in order to be taken seriously in many circles you must be a three-name-hyphenate.

Like Sue Monk Kidd. Or Marian Wright Edelman.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman?

L. Ron Hubbard? Nevvermind….maybe it doesn’t apply to guys….

Mom said
March 11, 2010 at 11:00 am

Before we knew whether you were a boy or a girl (no ultrasounds ‘way back then), we decided that a boy would be Junior, named after your Dad. But there aren’t very many nicknames for Charles, I didn’t want two ‘Charles’ in the household and I didn’t particularly like Chas. One day inspiration hit – we’ll call him Charlie! I guess we could have chosen to use your middle name….. you can decide if you want to publish it now.

    Charlie said
    March 11, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    And if I was a girl?

      Mom said
      March 11, 2010 at 5:52 pm

      Think of your sister….the first one.

        Charlie said
        March 11, 2010 at 7:42 pm

        Okay, I’m thinking about her. Now what?

          Biz said
          March 12, 2010 at 5:06 pm

          You would have been named Biz! 😀

          Love, your prettier sister!

Jason said
March 11, 2010 at 11:15 am

Is it easier for you to come up with names for characters in your books? If so, why not invent a character who plays the role you want to [billionaire author]?

    Charlie said
    March 11, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    No, it’s not. Not at all. Not in the least bit. I struggle.

    In fact, I spent hours and hours this weekend trying to come up with a single name for a character called “Chip” in the first draft. That was never to be his name, but now that I’m prepping for the second draft, I can’t seem to come up with a replacement.

Jess said
March 11, 2010 at 12:34 pm

When I was thinking about a pen name, the ones I liked the best were all based on family names, because they had meaning to me but weren’t, well, “Jessica”. Which is not an ugly name by any means, but there are approximately 100 billion Jessicas in the United States alone.

Kelly said
March 12, 2010 at 1:34 am

I feel the same way about my name. Only mine is so much more mundane than yours!!

I always thought that if I was to pick a new name (or pen name–not that I have any writing skills) that I would pick from the family tree. I have many interesting names to choose from.

Kelly Smith : )

Sagan said
March 15, 2010 at 11:27 pm

Dude, you have an awesome name. Pen names are overrated anyways.

I used to try to imagine what my pen name would be when I became a published author. Then it occurred to me that “Sagan Grange Morrow” is about as strange as it comes…

Erin at The Healthy Apron said
March 18, 2010 at 1:29 pm
Joe Spammer said
April 23, 2010 at 4:08 am

You would have been named Biz! 😀

Love, your prettier sister!

[Charlie says: Now here’s a new spam technique. The first time I saw this I had to do a double take. This is the second one. The approach? Steal a real comment from your site, and repost it with the spammer’s contact info. Grrrrr… this stuff drives me nuts.]