I was named in a fit of impatience. My brother Toby was six years old and frustrated that my parents referred to little unborn me only as “the baby.” Inspired by the book he was reading, one day he asked, “Can we just call her Sophie?” And so they did.
That book was The BFG by Roald Dahl, and its heroine is my namesake. Twenty years and several months after we were irrevocably bound together, it seems appropriate to reflect on how well I have lived up to the character. Are those six letters all that connect us, or was my enwombed self changed somehow when her name was given to me?
There are some obvious differences to get out of the way first. I can say happily that I do not share book Sophie’s orphan status, nor do I know any giants, friendly or otherwise. I am from England but somehow I haven’t yet met the Queen, or even any members of the royal family (although Amy Poehler did once say hi to me). I am also capable of aging, whereas book Sophie is an eternal child. These are surface distinctions that I mention now so they don’t meddle with our real purpose.
The first sentence of The BFG is “Sophie couldn’t sleep.” Immediately we have run into a more serious problem, because I am an excellent sleeper. I can sleep anywhere, like a cat. Lying down in Frist booths, sitting at Frist tables, face down and sober on my common room floor—I have slept deeply and peacefully in all these situations. I sleep in planes, trains and automobiles. I have slept on Terrace sofas and in an eight person seminar. There have been times in my life when this skill was less developed, when maybe I would have identified more with book Sophie, but my current self only has difficulty sleeping the night before Christmas when everything’s too exciting.
This difference between us is quickly negated by a strong similarity: we are both quite blind. Book Sophie “could hardly see a thing” without her glasses, and I am the same way. For a while mine only had frames on the top, so the bottoms of the lenses were exposed and it was very clear how stupidly thick they were. Without correction, my vision is bad enough that points of light become twinkly dandelions. Did my name cause this? When my brother’s request was granted, did it do something to my optic development? Were my innocent fetal eyes permanently damaged by association?
It seems unfair, if the bond did hurt me in this way, that I didn’t inherit some of book Sophie’s more useful qualities. She is much braver than I am, for example. We are both cool with breaking some rules (she walks around the orphanage at night, I often forget to write the honor code), but she risks being eaten to save children’s lives and I am scared of roller coasters. I wouldn’t even go on a gentle one until I was older than she is in the story. I worry about things more than book Sophie does, maybe because I am aged and wise to the hardships of life or maybe because she’s just great at living in the moment.
We’re both interested in dreams, although for different reasons. She uses them to rescue all those children, whereas I get confused and think they’re real. One of the biggest disappointments I can remember from my early childhood is dreaming that my parents had bought a huge arcade game machine, and then having my fantasies dashed in the morning. I didn’t even know I wanted one until then. Book Sophie has less time for these trivialities.
We are both curious about things, and if she gave me that I’m grateful for it. She is more practical, while I am a little more mischievous. We care about other people in a similar way, even if she has taken more impressive steps to prove it. Going by Quentin Blake’s original illustrations we have almost equally great sleepwear, although when it comes down to it I think my Elmo PJs just beat her pink nightgown.
I don’t know if nominative determinism has been at play here. It is entirely possible—some cynics might even say probable—that book Sophie’s characteristics didn’t affect how I grew in the womb or outside it. Maybe it’s a coincidence that I was given the eyesight of a courageous person, if not the courage itself. Maybe my brother was just reading about an awesome character and wanted me to grow up awesome too. If I haven’t done quite as much as the protagonist of his book, I hope I’ve at least lived up to his idea of who a Sophie should be.