“What’s in a name” — Oh boy, don’t you know?

Ask what’s in a name, and I’d say plenty.

When introducing myself, I’m either “It’s Sherry like the alcohol,” or “It’s Sherry, like the Frank Valli and the Four Seasons song.” The former usually gets a delayed I-get-it chuckle, and the latter works wonderfully with the slightly more senior folks.

And Roy Peter Clark, author of Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, advises writers to “pay attention to names.”

Names can be fun. Take popular characters in fiction, such as Rip Van Winkle and Ichabod Crane. Or savor Strawberry Bonbons, Glacier Mints, Pear Drops, Lemon Drops, Sherbet Suckers and Liquorice Bootlaces in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, well-crafted names enliven the imagination.

The best literary name of all, is perhaps Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita:

What’s in a name? Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (image credit: www.belelu.com)

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.


I am a fan of Clark’s book. Clark is a writer and a teacher at the Poynter Institute, where he is also the vice president and senior scholar. From time to time, I would pick up the book, flip to a random chapter and marvel, once again, at a writer’s craft.

Under the section “Special Effects,” Saul Pett of the Associated Press brings New York City’s Mayor Ed Koch (1978-1989) to life with overstatement:

He is the freshest thing to blossom in New York since chopped liver, a mixed metaphor of a politician, the antithesis of the packaged leader, irrepressible, candid, impolitic, spontaneous, funny, feisty, independent, uncowed by voter blocs, unsexy, unhandsome, unfashionable and altogether charismatic, a man oddly at peace with himself in an unpeaceful place, a mayor who presides over the country’s largest Babel with unseemly joy.

Not even all those un- adjectives can diminish Koch’s charm.

And Portuguese novelist António Lobo Antunes’ surrealist novel, Act of the Damned, never fail to remind readers how rich wordplay can be.

At eight a.m. on the second Wednesday of September, 1975, the alarm clock yanked me up out of my sleep like a derrick on the wharf hauling up a seaweed-smeared car that didn’t know how t swim. I surfaced from the sheets, the night dripping from my pajamas and my feet as the iron claws deposited my arthritic cadaver on the carpet, next to the shoes full of yesterday’s smell.

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