Saturday, January 10, 2009

What's in a Name?

One of my favorite things to do when I start a story is choose a name for my main character(s). Personally, I love unique names, be it made up or overheard, but at times any name can be unique in it’s own way. Meanings are something I look at as well, though my readers may never know what the names of my characters mean from my story. There’s something about knowing something they still don’t about my characters that has appeal... Anyway, I’m going off on a rabbit trail. Back on track we go!

Names are rather important. Not only to you but also to your reader. A name is probably one of the most important first things they learn of your protagonist. So, it should be something -right alongside with who they are- that will make them hard to forget.

Do you ever notice how with people you know, their names somehow suit them? Try it! Think of someone you know well and try to picture them with another name. I have a friend named Timothy (Tim) who shared that one time he tried to go by his middle name, Ryan, but it never stuck because everyone knew and placed him as his first. If you knew him, too, Ryan just doesn’t fit. It’s like calling Bob the Cucumber or Larry the Tomato -not gonna happen! So, for your characters, a name can’t be just a name.

The protagonist in The Neverending Story had quite a name -Bastian Balthazar Bux. But, it was catchy! And how many people do you know that have a name starting with all the same letter? So, even in it’s oddity (or perhaps because of it), the reader (or viewer) is drawn into this story.

I suggest that when deciding on a name, you figure out what their full name will be. First, middle, and last. You may not find you need or even use them all, but you’ll have them nonetheless.

The first, middle, and last names should sound at least somewhat decent together too -or perhaps this is just me. I’m not saying that unique names can’t be used. Not in the least! As I said before, I love unique names. However, put those unique names with names that sound good together and you’ll have a character name that people will not soon forget. (See QFD below.)

And further, feel free to give meaning to their names in your story. It might not coincide with the actual meaning of the name itself, but this is a surefire way to give people a connection to your protagonist. The more the connection there is, the more unlikely it will be to put their (your) story down. For example, one of the names mentioned in the discussion below is Carrie Doll Sulverson. Perhaps people call her Doll because she looks like a Barbie Doll, or Dollie to connect her first and middle names.

See how much fun names can be? They’re like a mini story all on their own!

Nicknames I love as well. But, if you’re going to use them, I think it would be less confusing to rely on one above the other. If you choose to use the nickname, make it known what their full name is once if necessary (an example would be Isabella -Bella- Swan in Twilight page 16), but then use their nickname whenever you refer to them again (unless there is a reason to use it again -ie. a newcomer or stranger. Perhaps your protagonist doesn’t like people calling her by her nickname until she knows them.).

When working with more than one main character (specifically in couples), names matter all the more. Think of Romeo and Juliet. Everyone knows who they are! Their names, in a way, defined them. And notice how their names go together. Say them out loud... Now, if it were Reuben and Joan, somehow I don’t think that would have the same effect. Do you? It sounds callous in comparison. (No offense to any Reuben’s and Joan’s out there!)

So, in summary:
1) Don’t settle for what’s natural and ordinary because your characters are to be extraordinary. Their name is a big part of what make this known on paper.
2) Have all three names -first, middle, and last- set in stone before you start writing.
3) Say names out loud to hear if they work together. Above all though, keep in mind who your character will be, or even become, and select a name that you feel will suit them.
4) Nicknames should be an either-or decision in a story to prevent confusion. And,
5) Couples names might do well in sounding good together.

As a final point, consider the name of Jesus. God specifically selected this name. Why? Who can say for certain? But, God gives us a great example of the importance of a name. And, for Jesus, it set the bar for who He was to become.

QFD (Question for Discussion) ---What would you think about the name Carrie Doll Sulverson? How about Pari Ciara Luther? Give your opinion on them. Do they fulfill the things mentioned in this post? In what special ways could you use them in a book (Hint: this may require some research)? Now, come up with your own full name and post it for discussion.

Great links for finding names--- First names, Last names,

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for stopping by over at my blog. I noticed that you started to follow me...thanks you. I added your name to my friends on the side bar.