Monday, September 27, 2010

What's In A Name?

I can see Shakespeare's point, but really, I need to disagree that names mean nothing and words would sound differently if we'd been raised with them meaning something totally opposite of what they are (wow - was that a run-on sentence, or was that a run-on sentence?). :) Some words and names just sound horrible - regardless of what they mean.

Consider with me the following words:

Pap Smear

I'm fairly certain that should "puke" refer to Willy Wonka's magical chocolate river, we still wouldn't find the word so appealing.

Same goes for names. "How do you solve a problem like Debbie?" doesn't quite have the same ring to it as "how do you solve a problem like Maria?" And we've all heard the story about how Cary Grant's manager made him change his name from Archibald Leach (good move, Mr. Manager!).

So, how do you come up with appropriate names for your characters?

I've always heard that the hard c sound is a clue that the character might be a troubled one. One example? Mr. Collins vs. Mr. Darcy. Or, Doc Ock from Spider-Man. What comes to your mind when you hear the name "Victor"?

Not good things, I imagine.

Does that mean that every person in your novel who has the slightest bent to their character needs a choppy name? Of course not - surprise your audience with a non-traditional name. But be careful with that. As much as the audience loves surprises, they also don't love finding out that Bambi was the one who murdered his mother after all. ;)

Stuck trying to come up with names? One great source for finding names is baby names books - 99% of the characters in my books had their names originate there. Flip through and think about the character you are going to write about. Are they funny? Loud? Subdued? Careful? I really do believe that the character makes the name - BUT the name also makes the character (Eeyore, anybody?).

What are some of the names that come to your mind when you want to write about an evil character? How about a good character? How about one stuck in between?


  1. I think it comes into play too your own personal experiences with people of certain names. For instance, I grew up wih several girls named Nicole and they are all pretty bratty and mean in school. (no offense Nicole's of today's adult world!) So I could never use that name for my heroine. But I could use it for her arch enemy...

    PS - When choosing a name, I think about the character's past and history and current goals and sometimes search baby name websites for name meanings to see if anything matches. For a character that lives on a beach and has a strong aversion to water, etc. I might search to see if there is a name that means something of the sea or ocean, etc. Usually that never even comes up in the book but its an inside thing between me and my character. =)

  2. If I'm writing a short story i google popular baby names of whatever time period i'm writing about and find one that matches my character's personality. If I'm writing a novel I often dream about the characters for a long time before writing and their names just seem right because they're what my mind came up with first.

    And I agree with you Betsy, what I think of a name often is directly related with what people I've known with the same name. :)

  3. Thanks for the name advice, Erynn! I have a folder full of guy/girl names on my computer that I occasionally add to when I find a new or unique one. Whenever I'm in need of a new character name, I just look through my files and usually find one without much headache. Naming the characters is one of my favorite parts of writing because you have to think about what will go with their personality, looks, etc. and also how you picture them in your head.