The Study Dude—Names that Flower

Hope blew in the day Cuddles nicknamed me “Nicee.” Names spark hope and sometimes save necks—but always pep up writers’ pens.  So, observe—and name—the whatchamacallits of the world, says author Barbara Baig (2015).

To master names, buy kids’ encyclopedias.  While reading an encyclopedia of science, I learned makeup comes from petroleum—yes, grease á la ground—ooze that smothers skin and breeds blackheads.  A necessary education for every aging woman.   Names in encyclopedias might not save your neck, but will surely save your skin.

Buy encyclopedias of birds.  Grandma birdwatches, once showing off her big book of bird species.  Mom, too, birdwatches.  She once stockpiled birdhouses, creating homes for dozens of feathery friends.  But a jealous beast swooped down, biting the bird’s necks.  Poor Mom cleaned a bloodbath of bird houses.  A ghost town.  Sometimes knowing names can’t stop a bitter bird.

Buy encyclopedias of plants, too.  After all, names can save lives.  I once cared for four plants, none of which I could name.  When I moved to a basement, they withered.  The only green spot sprouted where two plants touched—like two twigs holding hands.  They fell in love before they died.  Had I known what they were, I could have looked up how to save them.

Rocks have names, too.  A student of mine gifted me precious stones.  I saw the stones simply as back-alley rocks.  Later, I read about rock “vibrations”—energy pulses with powers to heal.  Intrigued, I ordered a heart-shaped rose crystal—a symbol of love.  When it arrived, the vibration felt off.  So, I gifted it to my elderly landlady.  She clutched the pink crystal against her heart, wailing, “Jack!”—her deceased husband’s name.

Author Barbara Baig shares the value of naming the world in her book Spellbinding Sentences: A Writer’s Guide to Achieving Excellence & Captivating Readers:

  • Master the art of naming. When we name things, we “call things into being” (p.  99).
  • Learn to name the world—as names enrich writing. We often don’t know names of everyday objects.
  • So, study encyclopedias and field guides of birds, plants, rocks, clouds—anything.
  • Zero in on nouns. The best nouns draw pictures in your mind.
  • Make your nouns so spot-on, you don’t need adjectives.
  • For practice, take any noun—and collect related nouns. String them into sentences.
  • Also, steal away to coffee shops; listen in on people’s talk. Pick out nouns each person speaks.  Write the nouns down; pass judgement on word choices.
  • Take a noun and list related verbs. String them into sentences.
  • Combine nouns with verbs that don’t jive. For instance, say, “Cocoa hugs” or “Gagged baggage.”
  • Replace “to be” verbs with livelier ones. Make “is” sparse.
  • Gather body verbs: “I kneed him,” “I elbowed my way to the exit,” “I stomached the lecture.”
  • Use adjectives that add oomph to nouns. “Cute kittens” is cliché.  Instead, give twists: “barking kittens,” “homely kittens,” or “deaf cats.”
  • Lastly, collect nicknames.

The master of nicknames is Cuddles.  His nicknames for people stick.  Back in junior high, “Chips” got violent when his nickname snowballed.  And never mind “Number Two.”  Yet, when I cried daily, stricken with low self-worth, Cuddles nicknamed me “Nicee”—flowering self-esteem.

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