I grew up Daphne Grab, Grab like the word grab, with a nice short ‘a’. In elementary school the insult that came my way the most was Grab-Bag, one of those things that isn’t inherently bad yet when said in a certain kind of voice by nine year olds, becomes mortifying. Back then I hated my name but over time it became just another piece of my identity and my experience, the way one’s name is. I’ve been Grab, either stand alone or hyphenated for all of my forty one years.
But then last year I went with my mom and sister to my aunt’s funeral where we met a whole magnificent slew of Southern cousins I was barely aware we even had (my dad wasn’t so great at keeping in touch with his family). And as my cousin Danny lead us in to meet everyone that first night I heard someone say, “The Grahbs are here.” Grahb, the ‘a’ long and elegant, a word so different from the usual Grab that it took me a minute to realize they meant us. We were the Grahbs.
And so over the weekend we learned that the family name had always been Grahb, spelled Grab but pronounced oh so differently, an elegant and dignified long ‘a’ for many generations of Grabs. But somehow my dad, when he went off to college, decided Grab, with the short ‘a’ was easier and started introducing himself that way. And thus we became the short ‘a’ Grabs.
I flew home thinking about what it might have been like to grow up Daphne Grahb. Would I have been more elegant and dignified? Would the lack of teasing have made me a better student or lead me to focus more on chess or some other interest? Would guys have thought me hotter with the more European sounding name?
I’ll never know the answers of course, but it did get me thinking about character names and how important they are, how even the difference between a long ‘a’ and a short ‘a’ can tell you loads about who the person is. Like when a character is named Luke Honeythunder (Dickens, master of character names) you don’t assume he is a quiet church mouse kind of a guy. A name can also deceive, like Severus Snape seeming to fit his snakey name, only to surprise us at the end. Names are an opportunity to reveal something about each of the characters in a story, their history and who they may or may not be. Which is why in the end, anything and everything can be in a name!