What’s in a name?
It’s a question Bill Shakespeare asked half a millennium ago (give or take), and it’s something pondered by both parents and novelists as we deliberate over the names of those we bring into the world. After all, names are more than amalgamations of letters. They have their own connotations, their own baggage, some born from popular culture, other from personal experience, like which kid ate paste or bullied kindergartners for lunch money.
In a game of name association, a Milton will always conjure a different image than a Brad. Ditto Draco Malfoy and Neville Longbottom. In fact, research shows that people actually resemble their names. Guess our fates are written in our names, as well as our stars.
While writing Protocol, I changed character names multiple times before landing on assignations reflective of their personalities and pleasing to my ears. Yet one character name remained the same: Zartar Nazarian.
Zartar was named for my great-grandmother, Zartar Melkonian. This character namesake wasn’t just an homage to the woman who gave my father nazook when he was a child. It’s a living tribute.
This year, Holocaust Remembrance Day coincides with Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. The first memorializes the more than six million Jews systematically killed during World War II. The second remembers the extermination of more than 1.5 million Armenians. Two remembrances. Nearly 10 million lives ended.
My great-grandparents fled their native Harput for America during the Armenian genocide. They were a drop in a tide of refugees who washed up on America’s shores. Like other refugees, they enriched their new homeland and vice-versa. Like other refugees, they were embraced by a nation with a tradition that once welcomed the stranger.
On the eve of his invasion of Poland, as he began to lay out plans for world domination and horrific mass murder, Hitler challenged an apathetic world with, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
To this I answer, “I do. I will.”
I’ll always have an Armenian in my books. Not just to honor my great-grandparents or to commemorate the Armenian slaughter some still deny. But to stand as a symbol for all those killed by genocide.
The truth is institutionalized murder is far from dead. The truth is my small gesture of remembrance will never be enough to honor the suffering, death and loss of those snuffed out. The truth is despite the paltriness of my literary act, I’ll do it anyway. As an offering for all those lost to systematic slaughter. As a candle against the dark that grows in Syria, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, in more places and for more people than ever before.
I took my husband’s name of Valenti, but I will always be a Melkonian. And today as the bells of Armenia toll “remember, remember,” to the victims of genocide everywhere and any-when, I say: I will never forget.