The Name Game

Growing up, I had a love/hate relationship with my name. My paternal grandparents, whom I saw often, proudly called me Teryl or Teryl Diane. Not because of anything I did to deserve admiration, although I was a pretty amazing kid. They liked the name because their son tagged me with it.

Author Zane Grey

My dad named me after the heroine in a Zane Grey western he’d read as a boy. West of the Pecos was copyrighted in 1931 and reprinted in 1938, when my father was eleven. It is part of the five-book collection he received for his birthday or Christmas. I assume it came from his parents, or possibly his Aunt Irene, as she doted on him. She had more money than my grandparents, but that’s not saying much since my father grew up in the Depression. Most everyone my family knew lived hand to mouth. How the books became his “library” is pure speculation since there is no surviving relative with whom I can verify my assumptions.

Notice how I used quotation marks around “library?” It’s a writing device to catch the reader’s attention. Did it work?

These five Zane Grey novels, which proudly sit on my shelf, were the only books my father ever owned as a boy.

Impossible to imagine, right?

Getting back to my love/hate relationship. Everyone called me Teryl through kindergarten. On the initial day of first grade, tragedy erupted. This is how I remember the scene.

Teacher: “Is James Miller in the room?”

James: “Here.”

Teacher: “Debra Moore?”

Debra: “Present.”

Teacher: “T..Te..Ter…Turtle.. Tur-rell Myers”

You can see why the children laughed and I cringed.

Embarrassed, I clarified it for her. Teryl rhymes with Cheryl. It’s a phrase I’ve repeated often as most people have never run across my unique moniker. I don’t want people to feel stupid if they mispronounce my name, so I try to preempt the embarrassment.

Teryl rhymes with Cheryl. Everybody knows a Cheryl.

For a while, in the last decade, I joined some dating services. I wanted potential suitors to be surprised, a little jolted, definitely intrigued by my unusual name. I hoped to stand out in the crowd. I updated my mantra to sound more alluring. “Teryl rhymes with Meryl—as in Meryl Streep.” Imagine my sexy impersonation of the great actress—in say, “The French Lieutenant’s Woman.”

Teryl, as in Meryl—Meryl Streep.

I never want to leave a reader hanging, so let me finish the story of poor Turtle Myers. The teacher gained control of the raucous six-year-olds with a firm, “Settle down, now.”

Snickers lingered.

My parents, Clarence and Frances Myers. I'm there, too.

On the spot, I made up my nickname, “Terry.”

You might think it odd that I chose the boy’s spelling of the name. I didn’t know any better. Most girls, as I soon discovered, spell the name with an “i” –Teri or Terri. After several people pointed that out, shame forced me to switch the spelling to Terrie. That iteration lasted the first semester of third grade.

I could tell you that I’d cleverly extracted the “y” from Teryl for my nickname. At six years old, I wasn’t that shrewd. I spelled it that way because my mother spelled her nickname with a “y.” My mom, Frances Jeraldean Myers, had been nicknamed “Jerry.” (That’s a story for later.)

Over the years, a few friends have called me Teryl, and I like it, but most people call me Terry. I sat in a quandary for months trying to figure out what name to use for publication. Terry or Teryl? Or maybe a pseudonym.? For a while, I spent more time trying to decide on my pen name than I did writing the book of my heart.

One friend, Joe Lipsey, suggested the nom de plume, “Palmer Grayson,” because he thought it sounded very sophisticated, gender neutral, and could work with whatever genre I finally decided to write—romance or mystery. I hadn’t chosen one yet. (Yes, I was at that confusing stage of writing.)

Another friend, Ann Adams, suggested I use “Mya Dane” – cleverly crafted from my maiden name, Myers, and my middle name, Diane. It sounded like a perfect pseudonym until I Googled it and found a porn star had already snagged the name for her professional use.

The same witty friend also suggested the pseudonym, Stephen King, since that author had suspended (temporarily, thank God) his writing career.

When push came to shove, and I’d finally found a publishing home for my first novel, Luck of the Draw, I had to make a decision on the name for the cover. My author name. To be recorded forever in the Library of Congress. On my first book.

To honor my father, I chose Teryl. To honor my husband, I chose Oswald.

For this essay, I Googled famous Teryls. None. A quick search of all derivations found Terrell Owens and Terrell Thomas. Both professional football players.

Read the book West of the Pecos. You’ll discover the heroine, Terrill, (as it was spelled in the novel) was named after her uncle who had died in the Civil War.

I had never come face to face with another Teryl (male or female) until recently when I had the pleasure of meeting the lovely owner of Terryl’s Flower Garden in Omaha, Nebraska. I felt a kindred spirit despite the fact she spells her name with two “r’s”. I told her the story of how my father chose my name. She admitted, amazingly, Zane Grey was her favorite novelist when she was young. Check out her beautiful floral work.

There was a popular song released in 1964 called “The Name Game,” written by Shirley Ellis and Lincoln Chase. Shirley Ellis recorded it.

Come on, you remember it. Sing along.

The name game!


Shirley, Shirley bo Birley Bonana fanna fo Firley

Fee fy mo Mirley, Shirley!


Lincoln, Lincoln bo Bincoln Bonana fanna fo Fincoln

Fee fy mo Mincoln, Lincoln!

My brothers and I played the Name Game on car trips with our folks. We would start with our own names –Steve, Terry, Tim, and then insert a variety of first names. We laughed and feigned innocence when a “naughty” rhyme echoed throughout the 1966 Pontiac.

What’s in a name? A lot, as you can see.

One of my favorite parts of writing is choosing the characters’ names. Successful naming is important because it helps to develop the reader’s image of the character. A carefully chosen name helps to determine the emotion the reader feels for the character.

I’ll tell you more about that in a future blog. And by the way, the baby name book I use to research character names reports that “Teryl” means “Thunder Ruler.”

Yep. That’s me.

Until then…choose something fictional to read. Feed your imagination and watch it grow.

I found “The Name Game” lyrics on the following website. Thank you, very much, Digital Dream Door.

I credit Wikipedia for the photo of Zane Grey.

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11 Responses to “The Name Game”

  1. Sandra Oswald says:

    Now I know your name and why, I don’t have to wonder which I should call you and if you will think I’m weird! Im glad I don’t meet to many people with my name, that’s what makes us interesting. Not only did you honor my dad by using Oswald you honored the whole family! I love when I tell people about your books and that I can say “Teryl Oswald!!”
    Keep writing because I love reading your artwork, so proud to have such accomplished women in this family!
    I love you!

  2. I enjoyed hearing how you got your name, Terry. I am the rhyming name. My grandmother named me.

    Only this week I received a lovely little teacup of miniature pink roses, carnations and white daisies sent from Terryl’s Flowers. Someone knows me well.

  3. Mayi says:

    Finally! i knew the reason of your name. My name is another great story too. Specially because no one else in the World has been named like me. For example: the easy way for me uto sign up for sites, emails and more ;)
    Do you remember the great name of Star Hope?… One of my lovely US friends and such a spirit of character!!
    What a fun, fresh and lively blog, Terry!

  4. Teryl says:

    Such kind words, Sandra. I love you, too.

    We have many accomplished women in the Oswald family, and none of you are off-limits as I think of topics for new blogs to write.

    Of course, you know who named you and why. Did you know Sandra means “defender of mankind?” It’s a shortened form of Cassandra. Your name was most popular during the 1940s, being #6 on the popularity list. I’m sure it was helped along by the actress, Sandra Dee. Let’s not forget Sandra Day O-Connor, the first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

  5. Jim Young says:

    “Terry Myers” – all this stuff about Teryl is well and good, and the Oswald part as well, but “Terry Myers” – that’s what you will always be to me, I’m afraid.
    But, I love your writing, and will be putting your books and future literary efforts on my Kindle. Just keep fighting your way past that evil blinkin’ cursor!
    You BHS pal,
    James “Lincoln” Young

    Lincoln, Lincoln bo Bincoln Bonana fanna fo Fincoln

    Fee fy mo Mincoln, Lincoln!

  6. Teryl says:

    Sometime soon, I want to hear the story of your name. Mayicela is so unique and beautiful, I couldn’t find it in Google. I looked for some derivation of it in my baby names book. Of course, I couldn’t find it there, either. The closest I came were all forms of the feminine of Michael, which means “who is like God?” The question mark is part of the meaning. It’s meant to be a question–I suppose with the implied answer–Michael.

    I prefer to think the last part of your name, “Cela,” is a shortened form of Celeste, meaning celestial or heavenly.

    Do you have baby name books in Costa Rica?

    Yes, I do remember your friend, Star Hope. That’s the best name, ever! I might steal it for a character’s name sometime.

  7. Teryl says:

    LOL. No worries. You’ll always be Jim Young to me. The guy next to me, stuffing crepe paper in chicken wire to make the Spanish Club’s homecoming float. And making me laugh. You always did that, too!

    Interesting middle name–Lincoln. Is it a family name? Lincoln is English and means “settlement by the pool.” Did you know that? James is Hebrew for “supplanter”–look that up in your Funk & Wagnall’s. James also means “substitute.”

    I want to give credit for all this fun to one of my favorite resources–100,000+ Baby Names, by Bruce Lansky.

  8. Julie B says:

    What a great post, Terry! I love how you ended up with your name. As a “Julie” (plain, old, boring Julie) I’m a bit jealous. I’ve always wanted to be Julia or Juliana but alas, I was born at the beginning of the 70s when a large percentage of girls were named simply Julie (trust me, I know it was common because in my dorm we had seven seven! Julies on my floor alone.)

    Great blog and lovely website! I love the graphics!

  9. Teryl says:

    Thanks, Julie. Your name was popular in both the 1960s and 1970s, sitting at #18 both decades! Julie is the English form of the of the Latin–Julia, which means “youthful.”

    I got that information from the book 100,000+ Baby Names by Bruce Lansky. The book also lists the results of a survey given to 100,000 parents. “Julie” made one of the lists. Parents associated the name “Julie” with a girl who is funny/clever. On the same list were the names Rosie and Gilda.

    So, are you laughing?

  10. Jim Young says:

    Thanks Terry. “Lincoln” is my mother’s maiden name, but I thought Grandpa Lincoln was German. Now I’m gonna have to do some family tree sleuthing.

  11. Teryl says:

    Probably a dumb question to ask if you’re related to Abraham Lincoln. People probably ask that all the time.

    Lincoln doesn’t sound German at all. Oswald does. And Myers.

    A couple of years ago, I went to Pella, IA for the tulip festival. (Go, if you’ve never been.) To say the residents take their Dutch heritage seriously is a vast understatement. Their saying is “If you’re not Dutch–you’re not much.” Well, I got to chatting with one of the locals who was dressed like a 67-year-old version of the little Dutch boy on the paint can. I proudly told him my maiden name and related that my paternal great, grandmother claimed our family came from Pennsylvania. The Myers family was Pennsylvania Dutch.

    He corrected me, but quick. Myers is not Dutch, it’s German. He explained that the term “Pennsylvania Dutch” is a mispronunciation of “Deutsch” as in Deutschland.” Germany.

    Even though he didn’t want to claim me as a possible cousin, I still bought a Pella sweatshirt and ate their cinnamon and sugar Kracklings. YUM.

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