Matt and I debated about giving Ender such a loaded nickname. Forget the fact that Ender Wiggin killed two children (in self defense) before he was 12, and forget that he unknowingly committed mass xenocide. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, a summary of Ender’s Game should help.)
Ignoring all of the acts he was tricked or pushed into committing, there’s still the problem of (the character) Ender’s own experience: his childhood didn’t exist, and once “freed” from the training of killing buggers he spent the rest of his life trying to absolve himself of the guilt of that war. He is never at any kind of peace until he marries Novinha on Lusitania some… 3000(?) years later, and that is a half-peace, under shared guilt and the weight of disaster.
It’s not something anyone would wish on a child, and names are nothing if not wishes for our children. Look at the most common meanings of names: beautiful, lucky, joyous, strong.
Except the character of Ender is not just the sum of his actions and experiences. He’s the most compassionate bad-ass imaginable. Oh, and a genius besides. And everyone he comes in contact with can’t help but love him. These are far from bad things, even if they are the very traits that get him into Battle School, and more importantly, the traits that pushed him to the top of Battle School, and ultimately made him responsible for winning the Bugger war.
We played with other nicknames. When I talked to him while I was pregnant, I usually called him “Ollie.” It’s funny, it seemed automatic at the time, but now Ollie is a totally different being: Ollie was the fetus and I can’t imagine this baby being anyone but Ender. Of course he could decide he hates it when he gets older, but fortunately Olivander lends itself to all sorts of nicknames. These days I’ve given up on telling people Ender is “short for” Olivander, because generally it just confuses them.
Matt and I both loved the name Olivander, but we weren’t settled on it. I’d thought of the name Ender independently, but wanted to give our baby a name with some meaning aside from a literary character, and Ender, as far as I know, has no meaning beyond the literal “one who ends,” which is not the most auspicious of meanings for a baby. As a nickname though, it’s an entirely different matter.
We were listening to the audiobook of Ender’s Game, and all its sequels, on a series of long trips. Matt had read Ender’s Game before, but not recently enough to remember it. I’ve read it so often I have bits memorized (which isn’t actually unusual… that is true of many of my books). As we got to the end of one of the books, Matt said, “couldn’t we name him Ender?” He was half joking. I grinned at him and pointed out that if Ender could be a nickname for Andrew, surely it could be a nickname for Olivander. I think we were pretty much decided after that.
When you think about it, any interesting literary character probably didn’t have a wonderful time of it- otherwise they wouldn’t be interesting. Misery and conflict is what makes a story. If we have a wish for our children, it would be boredom, and if naming our children were granting wishes, we would never name them for literary characters. No one wants their children to have adventures.
Naming isn’t wishgranting though, it’s giving. And if we are giving Ender anything from the character Ender, I hope it’s a taste of future, of things that seem impossible, of everyday beauty and love. Maybe the knowledge that nothing is ever as simple as it seems, and a bit of healthy distrust for authority. Independence but not loneliness, responsibility but not guilt. And especially a sense of open possibility.