Creative Nonfiction, Memoir

Creative nonfiction writing exercise: Your name

As I mentioned in my last post, I am going to be doing a lot of writing this semester in my creative nonfiction course. I am working my way through my first reading assignment and am already coming across small writing exercises that I would like to share with you. This post might turn into a series!

This is my sisters and me. I'm the oldest.
This is my sisters and me. I’m the oldest.

Writing Exercise

For today’s creative nonfiction writing exercise, you will write two paragraphs about your name. The first paragraph should be strictly objective, while the second should be more subjective. In other words, the first paragraph will contain facts about your name. The second will tell what it is like to be YOU while wearing the mantel of your particular name. Here’s an example from Writing True: The Art and Craft of Creative Nonfiction:

  1. My name is Robyn. It is spelled with a “y” and not an “I” and has one “n.” It has five letters, and spelled backwards it is nybor. It begins with “r,” has two syllables, and is easy to say. It is a female as well as a male name. It is the name of a bird. It is a name my mother liked.
  2. My name is Robyn, and I am like a bird. I have skimpy legs and a round belly, little eyes, and I sing when happy. I’d rather live in a tree anyway and peck worms for food, live in a soft rush basket, and lay my blue eggs. I’d rather sing than talk and be able to shiver in tiny waves, like a bird with its little heart beating fast. I am named for this bird. How did my mother know to do that?

Take ten minutes to complete this exercise. Try not to put too much thought into it. Just write what comes to you. Then either share your work in the comments below or share it on your own blog and post a link below.

My Version

My name is Mandy with a “y.” It is a common nickname for Amanda. I was born Amanda, but my dad called me Mandy, and it stuck. Mandy rhymes with Andy and candy. Backward it is ydnam. Amanda means, “worthy of love.” Amanda is an old family name, but my parents weren’t thinking of that when they named me. Mandy is the name of a song, and so is Amanda.

People often ask me if I am named for Barry Manilow’s Mandy. I am not. Sometimes my dad sings, “Amanda, light of my life; they should have made you a gentleman’s wife.” No one is allowed to call me Amanda but my grandmas. I hate it when people call me Amanda without my permission. It is even worse when they insist on calling me Amanda after I have asked them not to. It’s not cute to me. I was called Hon throughout the duration of my abusive marriage. I was nameless for ten long years. I have a right to be called by my preferred name. You don’t have a right to tell me who to be.

Next Steps

Consider what you have written about your name. Can you use this writing exercise as the basis of a creative nonfiction essay? Play with it and see what you come up with!

If you enjoy my scholarly writing, you might also enjoy my eBook, Papers: A Master Collection on the Art of Writing. Download your copy on Kindle today for just 99 cents!

2 thoughts on “Creative nonfiction writing exercise: Your name”

  1. Interesting exercise. I deal with my name nearly everyday because most people consider it to be unusual. Makes me think about the power of names — can they shape lives one way or another?

  2. I think names are very powerful! That’s why I often struggle to name characters when I write fiction. But when I find a name that really fits a character, it just feels right.

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