Saturday, October 5, 2013
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
Do your characters' names dictate their personalities? There are probably several of you who are like me…you can't start writing your story or even plotting it until you have decided on the names of your main characters. Even though I know who these characters are, they have to be named before I can continue.
A character's name can say a lot about him or her and even more when a nickname is used. For example, if a character is named Elizabeth, that would convey a more formal type of person. But, give her the nickname of Liz and suddenly she's a lot more outgoing, ready to party. On the other hand, give her the nickname of Beth and you have someone who is more shy or withdrawn. I realize those are stereotyped descriptions rather than fact, but they do give the reader a feel for the type of character you've created just from the name you've given her. And the same applies to male names. Someone named Henry is one type of character where Hank is a different type of person. You have a Charles who is different from Charlie who is different from Chuck.
A recent survey of 3,000 British teachers said names can peg kids as potential troublemakers. The poll reported that forty-nine percent of teachers said they make assumptions about students as soon as they see the names on the class roster. However, while teachers may roll their eyes at certain names, fifty-nine percent of the teachers surveyed said those same kids are usually the most popular among their peers.
With some characters their names are obvious—no worries or concerns about what to name them. Others seem to cause a lot of frustration. That's when I turn to my baby naming books.
And once your character has a first name that suits him or her, then there's the last name to think about. Where the first name needs to be a fit for the character, the last name can reflect on that character's family background. Sometimes that's an important element of your story and character development, but not necessarily.
On one occasion when I was stuck for a surname, I literally closed my eyes, opened the phone book, and put my finger on the page. And that was what I used as the character's last name. It was a minor character, so I wasn't trying to convey any type of an image or using the name to give information to the reader.
What type of considerations do you use when naming your fiction people, especially your main characters? Any special tricks you use to come up with names? Have you ever named a character after a friend or relative (I'm assuming with their permission)? Do you keep a list of names you've used so you don't repeat?