Monday, July 21, 2014

What’s in a Name?

I know it’s cliché, but I can’t help the title. What else are you going to call a blog about naming things? Sometimes you just need to borrow from the greats – and great Shakespeare just knew what he was talking about. Or did he?

When Juliet spouts those world-famous words, she claims that even if we called a rose a burglopsnoz, it would still smell and look the same. But if you’ve read or seen The Importance of Being Earnest, you know that, sometimes, your name is all that matters. 

As a writer, I think character names are extremely important. Not only do you need to pick names that fit in your setting, it’s essential to pick names that have varying sounds and lengths – a cast of Tim, Tom, Tony, Theresa and Tonya would just be confusing. And that means putting a lot of effort into crafting the perfect name.

I love the process of naming characters. It’s the first thing I do as a personality takes form in my head. I spend a lot of time looking at the meaning of names, and if the meaning of the name doesn’t jive with the vision I have for the character, I’ll pick something else. I consider nicknames, middle names, different pronunciations/spellings, and more.

One of the best places to find inspiration is on a site especially for baby names. Some of them even have special help sections for writers. Now, I know a lot of people think this is silly. But once they know that Gabriel means God is My Strength and Henry means Ruler, they are introduced to another level of the story. It’s like subliminal messaging.

If you still don’t think names matter much, think about how many names come with baggage. Use “Romeo” and people expect a romantic lead. Names like “Edward” or “Elizabeth” imply royalty. The only way to avoid this “name baggage” is to make up every single name you use, and that can get both exhausting and ridiculous. That's why I always look up meanings – there may be some "name baggage" I don't know about. I'd hate to give my protagonist a name that means "Lazy Slug". Besides, I think some of the best casts – especially in the speculative fiction genre – are a mix of made up and pre-existing names.

What do you think is the most important element of naming fictional characters?

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