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Aimee's Blog

The Friendship Quilt
  “Our names were made for us in another century.”  
 
Richard Brautigan
 

I loved the name book as a girl. I would pour over it for hours, delighting in the sound and the meanings of names, memorizing the variations of Elizabeth or Margaret. My dolls in their lacey red or blue dresses and intricately curled hair had names I chose – Jennifer Kathleen or Andrea Laura. My china figurines were named according to the nation they represented – Marguerite, Pocahontas or Kakalina.

I never tired of choosing names. I chose names for the children I would have someday. Kristin and Matthew, Alyssa and Donovan. Never mind that their father might want a say once I actually met him and we created them together.

I suppose it was inevitable I would become a story teller for the sheer joy of naming all my characters.

Recently I inherited my grandmother’s friendship quilt containing the names of her girlhood friends. It was a gift to her when she married in 1911 at the age of twenty. All of her girlfriends embroidered squares which were then sewn into a quilt. They embroidered fruit or flowers along with their names on the squares.

I can’t express how much I delight in this quilt. There are 24 girls who each embroidered 24 squares, so each girl could have a quilt as she married. That wouldn’t happen today. I can’t imagine my daughter or her friends sitting still that long in this hurried world, let alone with a needle and thread if they did. They would be much more likely to create a digital album of pictures taken with their phones. But let’s say they included their names. Names tell us more than the likes and dislikes of parents naming their children. They indicate culture and ethnicity as well.

In school I knew any number of girls named Karen, Lisa or Lori. Boys were named Steve, Mike and Brian. When we came to class everyone had watched the same Charlie Brown special the night before, later everyone had watched the exploits of soap opera characters Luke and Laura.

My children go to school with Ashley, Natalie, and Guadalupe; Alex, Damien, and Jose. They attend class where everyone has watched the same YouTube video gone viral.

What were the commonalities in Broken Bow, Nebraska in the early 1900’s? When students arrived at school in the morning, had they attended the carnival, the same dance? Perhaps read the same serialized story segment in a magazine?

Three names appear more than once on the quilt: Ethel, Hazel and Emma. While Emma has made a return to popularity, I can’t honestly say I’ve met anyone in recent years named Ethel or Hazel. Names such as Pleasant and Ora, original sounding now, have clearly fallen into disuse. While Allie and Tressie strike me as very modern nicknames, it’s fun to realize they have a much longer history.

How shall I name my characters? Should I base their names on birth year, region and popularity? Can I just pick one I like so I don’t tire of my story? Better yet, might I pick a name I love, a gem from days past? Taking the time to research, gather input from others and choose a name both lovely and timeless?

It is after all how I named my children.

Quilt Names