Romeo and Juliet by Sir Frank DickseeI’ve always loved the name “Elio”. It comes from the Greek Helios, meaning “sun”. For an Italian name, it’s comparatively short and rolls off the tongue with perhaps the loveliest sound in any language, “l”. In all my years in Italy I only ever ran into one person named Elio, so to me it also feels crisp and fresh, a name without history.
But now I have to ditch it. As a name in my manuscript, that is. I won’t go into a detailed explanation as to why “Elio”, the fictitious name for my lead male character, must go, but I will say rather mysteriously that it has something to do with an astrological sign, a top-hundred list and a very confident Irishman.
Darnit. The name Elio was so very well suited to the real-life “character” in my memoir: a brilliant geology student from a small town chain-smoking his way to big dreams. Of course, the actual name of this geologist would have been an even better match, encapsulating as it does his succinctness, earthiness and ties to tradition, without giving away an ounce of volatility. But the geologist has already graciously agreed to appear in my book, along with his personal emails, so I think it would be a bit too much to ask to use his real name as well. His hometown is, after all, a village of only 1,372 souls: how long do you think it would take before every man, woman and goat was whispering his name on the streets?
Over time I’ve worked my way through a mental list of Italian names, without ever finding a suitable substitute. In each potential name, I see only faults. This one’s too long, this one’s hard to say, this one – unfortunately – was the name of the Neapolitan butcher who used to hang bloodied rabbit skins in his shop window. In fact, I think you’ll agree with me that the following names, for various reasons, simply don’t work:
Too long – Alessandro, Francesco, Giovanni, Domenico
Short but dorky – Afro, Divo, Ulfo
Too aristocratic – Baldassare, Ambrosiano, Eustorgio, Fiorenziano, Ludovico, Pierluigi
Too ghetto – Peppino, Guido, Pippo, Gennaro
Too foreign – Valter, Igor, Omar, Sigfrido
Good but belonging to another character in the book – Leo, Gerardo, Luca
Too famous – Cesare, Dante, Dionisio, Napoleone, Ponzio, Socrate, Ulisse
The name’s meaning doesn’t match the character – Innocente, Modesto, Immacolato, Libero (= free), Orso (= bear), Primo (= first), Ultimo (= last)
Forever tainted for English-speaking audiences – Benito, Tito, Quasimodo, Elmo
At this point, there are only a handful of contenders towards which I feel, at best, lukewarm: Ennio, Ezio, Caio, Ivo, Manolo, Lino, Nico. I probably like this last one best, but we used to have a beautiful dog named Nico, the kind of pooch with sad eyes who, without a leash, would sit for ages waiting for you outside the supermarket, and all night long would poison the bedroom with thunderous, noxious gases. I just don’t know if I can get past this association with the name Nico.
So maybe you can help me. I’m looking for a great name for the Romeo in my manuscript, a name that will make all the girls melt like buffalo mozzarella. A name that’s somewhat traditional but doesn’t remind you of the hairy Sicilian who used to run the pizza parlor on the corner. A name that’s relatively short and easy to pronounce for an English-speaking audience. A name you would give to your own newborn son, if it weren’t for the fact that you once read a bestselling book called Lost in the Spanish Quarter, and so the name will forever remind you of that heartbreaker from a small town near Naples.