Sunday, June 29, 2014

5 Thoughts on Names

1. Girls have no problems going by guy names but guys are insulted if you call them a girl's name. Alexandra will be Alex. But I've never met an Alexander who goes by Lexie. When I look up my name I get "feminine form of Eric." But I can't think of a single name that would be described as the masculine form of something. Some names slip from gender to gender, like Taylor, but they're considered unisex names rather than girl names. If you ever meet a Joesph who goes by Sophie be sure to let me know.

2. Foreign names aren't always the kind of foreign you think they are.
While reading some family history today I came across a relative named Anita. Hispanic? Nope. Danish. Anita is originally a nickname for Anne or Anna, which are quite possibly the best international names. Plenty of countries have their own form. They're short and easy to pronounce. I know a Brazilian girl named Ana. When I talk about her, people hear the American form, Anna. Her sister Maria is more obvious. Never mind that Maria is used in plenty of European countries, especially German speaking ones. It's currently trending in Ireland.

3. Exotic names don't always work.
Another one of my Danish ancestors had the name Inger Sophie. Her daughter Ane, who emigrated to Utah, named a child Emma Sophia. She had several daughters but never called one of them Inger. I wonder why. Sophie travels well. Inger only works in Denmark.

4. Nicknames don't work internationally.
An American boy names Nicholas will go by Nick. But a Russian boy will be Kolya.

5. Not all belles are created equal.
Annabelle is classy. Clarabelle? Not so much. Isabelle wears silk gowns and kid gloves. Idabelle milks cows. Even though they're only one letter off, the two names conjure up very different images.
This goes for all old fashioned names. In 1914, Anna ranked #6 for girl names. It's timeless. Evelyn snags the #11 spot. It sounds cute and modern. Rose, #15, has a graceful old fashioned touch. But I've yet to meet a young Mildred (#7) or Florence (#13). They're too ugly and old fashioned.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Rule of Barbie

My friend L'ren invited me over for a Barbie movie day. Yes, we're seventeen. No, we're not ashamed. We picked The Princess and the Pauper because it was my favorite as a child. That, of course, has nothing to do with the fact that one of the protagonists is named Erika. If you've never seen a Barbie movie, you probably don't expect much, but the plot's actually well drawn. That makes up for the animators' laziness. We kept seeing the same extras.
Even though the story tied together really well, I couldn't help but guess at the twists. It's been nine years since I watched it last. All I really remembered was
1. Character with my name
2. The kingdom, which seems to rely entirely on a specific empty gold mine, is saved when Princess Annelise discovers geods at the bottom. This bugged me as a child. Do you know how worthless those are? I had a whole box in my garage back in second grade.
But even with my limited memory, I knew this story already. The Prince and Pauper switch pops up a lot.

It started with the original Twain story
Mickey Mouse got in on the fun 
Pokemon didn't want to be left out

Neither did Disney Channel
A popular variant is The Princess and the Popstar.
Here's Veggie Tales
The Lizzie McGuire Movies uses this plot, though the title doesn't  tell it.
As does this Janette Rallison novel.
Barbie even did another one of these eight years after the original.
Did they really think no one would notice?
A story I see even more is A Christmas Carol.

And the inevitable Barbie movie.

Here's a good rule of thumb: If Barbie (or the Muppets) has made a movie inspired by it, then it is no longer a story, but a formula. I've heard it said that it's impossible to create a new story. Every idea you have for a plot comes from another plot. This is true. And so very, very wrong.
Let's strip The Prince and the Pauper down to its bare bones. We've got a Rags to Riches story. Let's see, who else has done that?
We've also got a Twin Swap story.

I'm sure Twain didn't pitch his book as Cinderella meets Parent Trap. But that's what it is. That doesn't mean it's bad or that he stole the idea. Ideas don't get recycled. They get smashed and twisted and blended and vaporized and reassembled again.
What about A Christmas Carol? We've got a holiday story. We've got a ghost story. We've got a change of heart story. Did anyone before Dickens think to combine those three ideas? Maybe. But he did it in a way that will never get forgotten.
The point of storytelling isn't to create something new and original. Stories have to power to make new things familiar and familiar things new. Don't stress about finding 'already done' elements in your favorite shows. Look at what they did to make them fresh and exciting.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

Mary, now is your time.
From 1880 to 1961, Mary was the number one baby name in the US. It didn't drop out of the top ten until 1972. In 2013, it hit an all time low at number one hundred and forty.
Old fashioned names are making a comeback. Leading girls' names for 2014 include Isabella and Sophia. But after watching Mary Shelley, Mary Wallstonecraft, Mary Astor, Mary Cassatt, Mary, Queen of Scots, and Mary-the-one-they're-all-named-after-anyways parading across history, we're finally getting over it. That's right, Mary is now slumming with names like Genevieve and Angelina. This means that if you want to name your daughter Mary, she doesn't need to call herself Mary Ann or Mary Johnson to set herself apart from her friends. But, unlike most uniquely named people, she won't have to spell it every time she introduces herself.
This last year I had the pleasure of being in a choir class with Xantha, Azurdee, Camrie, and Daryll, all female. There were also two girls named Molini and Losena, but they're Polynesian. The rest of these parents don't have an excuse. I've met girls called Lakyn and Kyndriee. Autocorrect hates them.
Names are important. It makes an impression before people have a chance to see your face. Try not to screw this up.
First, if your child is female, don't give her a name that belongs to boys 99% of the time. Taylor is fine. Tristan? Not so much. She'll constantly be mistaken for a boy on paper. The same goes for you people who think Stacey is a good male name.
Avoid line of sight names. My dad's friend named his daughter Female, pronounced Fee-Molly, because it was already on the birth certificate. A guy in my driver's ed class had the name Kansas. A nod to his parents' beloved home state, perhaps? No. His mom popped him out in the backseat on the way to the hospital. The car ahead of them had a Kansas plate.
If your kid wants a unique name they'll make up their own. My friend Lindsey spells her name Lindzi to stand out. And then there's L'ren, legal name Lauren. She pronounces it weird and I thought she was Lorraine for a month until I finally saw it written down.
Sometimes the best thing you can do is run your name by another person. For example, my middle name is Elizabeth. It was my mother's middle name as well and I want to pass it on. I like the names Esther and Eve, too, so I thought, "Why don't I go with this theme and give all my daughters biblical E names?"
Then one day I was sitting in the aforementioned choir class and realized I might have four daughters. So I pulled out my iPod and searched for another name. The only one I could find was Eunice. So I wrote it down all my names in the margins of my notebook.
My friend Kelly glanced over. "What are you doing?"
"Naming my future children. Gwendolyn Elizabeth, Tatiana Eve, Anastasia Esther, and Valentine Eunice. What do you think?"
Her face looked pained. "Well...if that's what you really want to do..."
I've also had people try and talk me out of Valentine. My mom flat out said that any grandchild named Devonny shouldn't count on birthday visits from her. Sometimes you just have to cave into other people's opinions.
But, in the immortal words of my reasonably named friend, "if that's what you really want to do", then go ahead. Populate the world with Aeriths and Xaidens. Just keep in mind that you can pick a normal name and still feel unique.
Like Mary.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Nothing Like the Book

Last year we read The Tempest in English class. A few weeks after we finished the school had a group of actors come preform it. When my teacher asked the class what we thought, a few kids said, "It was nothing like the book."
Book? The Tempest is a play. What we read was a script. I realize that most people only read books and don't know the difference. But it has stage directions and everything. They should've been able to figure it out. We called it "the play" often enough during our study.
The actors followed it. Oh, I'm sure they ad-libbed here and there, as actors do. They tossed in a few of their own touches. Several of the actors were female and the characters are mostly male, so that altered things a bit. But they didn't "change" it. No scenes were cut out. No characters combined. No plot threads twisted in bizarre new ways.
And yet my class found things to complain about.

The adaptation of Catching Fire follows the book more closely than most movies. Because of that, I got a little nit-picky in the theater. In the scene where Effie draws Katniss' name, I muttered, "She had her hand in the jar longer than that!" The amount of time Effie's hand spends in the jar does not affect the course of the story. But I felt as if I had to find something wrong.

Yesterday I went to see The Fault in Our Stars with two friends. The author himself called the movie "amazingly faithful" to the book. As I watched, I almost felt it was too faithful. All my favorite scenes were in there, along with my second favorite scenes, and tertiary favorite scenes, and some scenes I didn't really care to see at all. Yes, I enjoyed hearing the conversations I loved spoken aloud. Yes, I liked seeing characters who only existed in my head breathing and moving on screen. But at the same time, I knew exactly what was going to happen. When you go into an original movie, it's "What happens next?" that keeps you watching. Go into a book adaptation and it's "What are they going to leave in?"
From wikipedia: Erich von Stroheim attempted a literal adaptation of Frank Norris's novel McTeague in 1924 with his film, Greed. The resulting film was 9½ hours long. It was cut, at studio insistence to four hours, then without von Stroheim's input, to around two hours. The end result was a film that was largely incoherent. Since that time, few directors have attempted to put everything in a novel into a film. Therefore, elision is nearly mandatory
So, in other words, we worked out ninety years ago that it's not possible to cram every part of a book into a movie. And still we complain.
No movie can be exactly like a book. Unless you want a sixteen hour movie about a guy who sits in a chair and reads to the audience. We should look at movies not as a visual, audible version of a book, but as a representation of the story. And maybe that's a good thing, because however close a movie gets, we'll find something to complain about anyways.