The Importance of Being EdwardBy:
One of my son’s high school classmates is named Gilbert. And he goes by…Gilbert.
I was totally jazzed to hear it.
“Awww that’s so sweet!”
“Why in the world would you think the name ‘Gilbert’ is sweet?”
I explained to my son that his mom probably named him after Gilbert Blythe.
“And who in the world is Gilbert Blythe?” He sounded irritated.
“The guy from Anne of Green Gables,” I replied. “The one Anne falls in love with and marries.”
For some reason my 16-year old son could not wrap his mind around the concept that parents would actually name their child after the love interest of a literary character. I tried to explain.
“Gilbert was a sweetie. And I suppose Gilbert is a better name to call your son than…Darcy.”
“Darcy is a girl’s name, mom.”
“Yeah, I wonder how that happened…”
He rolled his eyes at me. He does that a lot.
“Look, the equivalent today would be naming your son ‘Edward’…you know, the character from...”
“I know, I know.” He shuddered mockingly.
In ten to fifteen years, will high schools be populated with ‘Edward’s and ‘Bella’s? I don’t know but I do know what Shakespeare had to say on the subject…
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.-(Juliet, from Romeo and Juliet)
Yeah, well, clearly Shakespeare never wrote Twilight fan fiction. A name means everything to us. It tells us immediately who will get the girl in the end (or in a slash fic, who gets the guy in the…never mind). The point is, we immediately know who our friends are, who we’re going to despise, and who we want to see roasted for all eternity on a slow spit in the fiery depths of hell.
A beautiful strawberry blonde shows up in a fic named Tanya; what’s our immediate visceral reaction? No, No, No! She wants Edward; stay away from him, Bitch!
A friendly, good-looking guy meets Bella and introduces himself as…James. What do we readers feel? No, No, No! Don’t go out with him! He’s evil!
Angela = good. Lauren=bad.
Then there’s this new guy in the story. He could be anything from an unrepentant serial killer to a priest, but as soon as we read that name… Edward…we don’t care what he is or what he’s done. We simply relax, knowing that on some deeply satisfying level, we’ve found our man.
Just as Gwendolen would never marry a man unless his name was Ernest in Oscar Wilde’s play, we would never fall for a man in a fanfic unless his name was Edward.
(I’m sorry…I’ll never understand you Team Jacob types.)
It seems strange to me that we enjoy (ok, not just enjoy, but drool obsessively over) reading assorted stories that use the same names and descriptive appearances (messy bronze hair; chocolate brown eyes) for characters yet somehow we never grow tired of them. Doesn’t that seem odd? Doesn’t that take something away from the reading experience?
In order to keep some element of surprise, I thought if I ever wrote a multi-chapter fic, I would give Edward a nickname, so readers would be kept in the dark about his identity until the end. Or I would give a couple of guys the name Edward to keep readers in suspense as to which one Bella should actually be falling for. (I know - stupid idea. It would be way too confusing.) Maybe I wouldn’t use any of Stephenie’s names at all…but then it occurred to me that if the story were about Bill and Susan, I wouldn’t be writing Twilight fan fiction; I would be writing a damn Harlequin romance and…Eeew! Where’s the fun in that?
This is when I realized, we fanfic readers like knowing our characters ahead of time. Just like a favorite series of books or TV shows, or movies, it’s comforting knowing these individuals as well as we do and figuring out what the author has in store for them. The suspense comes with not knowing how our well-loved, familiar characters will respond to any certain situation.
Plus not everything in the Twi-dom is a given based on a character’s name.
A character named Jacob gets introduced. Hhmmm, suspicious... He could either be trouble with a capital T or a loyal best friend/big brother type. He’s ambiguous; we have to read more to figure out which incarnation of Jacob the author is using.
Or, my favorite, Jacob could simply be the name of Edward’s or Bella’s pet dog.
This knowing the true character of a character reminds me of an old silent movie that later became a fun play called, “The Perils of Pauline”. The dastardly villain wore a black cape and a fake handlebar mustache and every time he appeared on stage the audience would eagerly hiss and boo. Whenever the handsome good guy would walk on with a wide, toothy smile, the audience would stand, applaud and whistle appreciatively. In the fandom, we relish knowing who we’re rooting for and who we can metaphorically throw rotten tomatoes at in a story…and we can, based on their names.
So, a rose by any other name may in fact, smell as sweet. But in Twi fan fiction, no other name will suffice to describe the perfect tortured soul we all love to love, but Edward.
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