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A novel in verse … and the writing thereof

late-breaking news: two phone calls and two more names

Sunday, March 13th, 2011 by

On the phone today I told my mother my western names story, which I wrote up yesterday. (See Western Names Live On.)  In brief, it’s this: that after hearing the names for a high school basketball team from the middle of Montana ( Clint and Clinton, Kyler, Tiegan, Bridger, Trent, Wyatt, Logan, Brody, and then the German exchange student, Jonas), I was pretty sure I hadn’t gone overboard with names I’d chosen for my male characters (Cory, Rollin, Travis, and Brant).

But she thought maybe I had gone too far; she’d never met people with those names when she was growing up. (All these characters are nearer her age than mine.)  She hadn’t been in the west, I said, a point she was reluctant to concede. She’d never known anyone like that when she traveled through  Oklahoma, she said.

“Oklahoma? Oklahoma’s not the west!”

“It isn’t? We sure thought it was. What about when you were in San Diego?”

That actually stumped me for a moment, it seemed so odd. Then I realized that she actually thought California was part of the American West. How ever had she come up with that? (Maybe because it was on the extreme western edge of the continent?)

This led to a long conversation about what and where the west was, and the difference between the west and the southwest, and how people in different places define it differently.

The upshot, though, was that I agreed I should do some research on what people in Montana were naming their sons in the twenties and thirties. And I’m here to say that I haven’t found an easy way to do that on the internet. I can find favorite boys’ names back to early 20th century, but not broken down by state. I can find them broken down by state, but only back to the 1960s. I can find death registers for Montana for any decade I want, but who knows where those people were born or named?

My friend Heather, with whom I went to those basketball games, suggested looking up particular names to learn how popular they were, so I’ll try that next.

She had a chance to give me this advice, because she called from the road. She and Rod had headed home to Choteau early this afternoon, so I was a bit surprised when she called several hours later. She wanted to tell me that more guys had been dressed out for the tournament than she’d realized. The two she’d forgotten to tell me about, she said, were named Austin and Justin.

I know that doesn’t prove anything about names given in 1925, but–but–really. You couldn’t get away with that string of names as a fiction writer; you’d be accused of stereotyping or fantasizing or air-brushing or an utter disregard for reality. I love it.