Naming for a Synesthete

I actually wrote this little article months ago to guest blog for someone, but I don’t think she ever followed through with the blog thing.  But I enjoyed it, so figured I’d share it here.

I think most people select a name for their child based mainly on the way the name sounds.  If it’s appealing to them, that’s all that’s important.  Then some people also want a name to honor a family member or otherwise have some sort of personal significance.  Some people want the name to have a nice meaning (although beware of your source on that, there’s a lot of incorrect or incomplete etymological information out there!)  They might take a meaning at face value and if it’s positive, that’s what they’re looking for.  Some people might go deeper with meanings and choose one that has a deeper significance or conveys an important idea to them.  Then there is me, where I consider all of the above–because I’m a dork like that–but I also have synesthesia, and that adds a whole new dimension when it comes to choosing a name for my child.

Wikipedia defines synesthesia as “a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.”  That’s a pretty simplistic definition, but basically in my case it means that letters or letter combinations have colors (I don’t literally see the colors, they’re just “ideas” that I “feel”), and entire names can also have textures, temperatures, personalities, scents, or evoke very vivid, random, complex images that have nothing to do with the name itself.

Like “Rose” does not make me think of roses, it makes me think of a mahogany piano in a dark room full of candles, from a close-up side view, and it smells like Lemon Pledge.  It would take me an entire paragraph to describe “Ivy” to you, and no, it doesn’t involve ivy.  Alice is a white linen sheet on a clothesline flapping in the breeze, seen from the view below it looking up at a very blue sky with a sun.  Juliet is musical.  Ezra is sandy.  Genevieve is emeralds.  Hamnet is a medieval feast.  Virginia is having tea in an English garden.  Julian is a goblet of wine.  Heidi is straw.  Everett is a forest.  Brendan wears a flannel shirt.  Cyril wears tweed.  G is emerald green, E is a pastel (usually yellow, sometimes pink), C is sunny yellow, A is navy blue, R is red, H is gold, T is darker green, B is brown, N is orange, Mar is red, i is black, v is purple, o is white…  Yeah, fun stuff!

So when I have a kid who needs a name, it needs to be pretty colors, and its texture, personality, image, etc. also has to be pleasing to me.  I don’t like names that are black, pink, sharp, or cold.  For boys my favorite names are warm, friendly, loyal, strong, and huggable.  You want to be friends with them and they have nice beards and wear collared shirts and like roast beef and they probably tell really good (clean!) jokes.  My favorite girls’ names tend to be very loving and domestic.  They wear aprons and bake the best cookies in the entire neighborhood.  Everyone at the PTA meeting wants them to be involved in the bake sale.  They are also intelligent, strong, and confident.  They stand up for themselves and their family, are well-spoken in a discussion, and will beat you at Jeopardy.

That’s a lot of pressure for a name.  But I’m not sure if this makes selecting a name easier or harder.  It certainly narrows choices down pretty easily, which can be a pro or con.  There are only a handful of names that fit all of these criteria.  I suppose I should just be glad that my husband has similar tastes and not terribly strong opinions on the matter?  I’m also very much an intuative person, and in the end I will go with what just feels right.  And so naming our children hasn’t been difficult for me at all.  I enjoy how their names are so much more to me than just a sound or string of letters.


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