A relative of mine thought it strange that I would write my father’s story as fiction. It makes sense to me, I told her, as he was with us for just a few years, and I was looking back on our time together from many years later. What would the truth be, if I wrote the work as non-fiction? I had to call on my memory as a child to put together the essence of my father’s life, and to also borrow my siblings’ memories to complement my own. It is known that memory is both fallible and selective and fiction is always based on some version of fact.
I named his character Jack, which was close to his own name John. The surname McPhee I borrowed from a short story I had previously written based on my father; so again it made perfect sense to me to build a fictional story around him. I found it fun to choose different names for my mother and siblings, and although it seemed a little strange at first to write them, the fictional names came to me automatically the more I wrote.
But yesterday, I got to thinking more about why we have the names we do. Take my own surname – Lingard. It wasn’t my maiden name, nor my married name, but one of my father’s first names, his mother’s maiden name to be precise. I liked that I got to choose that name. Our family name was Fowlds. But then, Fowlds had also been spelt Foulds by some ancestors; so what was the correct spelling? Annoyingly, others could never get our name correct, and we were all subjected to spelling it out letter by letter. No surprise that kids called us Chook at school, and I had no desire to have people call me that nickname ever again.
But I have always been pleased with my first name – Vivienne, but many people never use the name they were given at birth. My husband was named Kevin, but from three months of age he was called Kerry, as a new baby cousin was also named Kevin. Two of Kerry’s brothers use their second names, and many other people do likewise. I can’t imagine how I would feel to be suddenly called Margaret (my second name) instead of Vivienne. I mean. I am Vivienne. I like the name; it defines me. The sound of Margaret is so totally different from my given name. It is crisper to the ear. And crisp like my own mother Margaret, I fear.
So, the fact that I changed peoples names for the sake of a story, seems perfectly logical to me. For who are any of us really?