Monday, August 29, 2011

A Rose by Any Other Name...

Shakespeare was wrong, names are important. So when creating your characters it is important to give them names that suit their personality. Unless of course, you are trying to be ironic. Like naming a big, hulking, girl Grace. Either way, this is an important step to developing your character and should not be taken lightly.

I always have a hard time with character names. I want to name my characters something original and creative. I loathe generic names like Bob, Joe, Jeff, James and Tommy. But you cannot have all of your characters have super-original names. It is emotionally taxing as an author to find so many original and creative names. Keep in mind that strange names can also lead to confusion for your audience. For example, in the Harry Potter series I had Hermione pronounced in my head Her-meee-on. Boy, was I frustrated when she demonstrated the pronunciation in the book as Her-my-oh-neee!

Another example is my main character for All is Well. Her name is Clear Angell. I had to re-write her introduction because several of my testers were confused as to why I had capitalized clear. And I may have to change the last name because most people don't realize it is pronounced angel. Curses!!

Can you imagine how hard it was naming my children? That is how hard it should be for you to name your characters. Your characters are your creation and in a sense your children. You want them to have original names that will stick with the reader long after the book is over. (Laura Croft, anyone?)

How do you go about picking a name? You have your lists, right? Now, go bookmark one of those on-line baby name sites (my favorites are  Parents Connect and Babynames) and look through the names and their definitions. Find one you like that suits your character. If you already have a name picked out, check it in the registry. Sounds easy, right? Hahahahaha!!! I am working on a Zombie story and have changed my main character's name ten times. I can't get past the name part.

The name is probably the first introduction of your character and before you get a chance for the audience to get to know them, they will be automatically imbued with certain characteristics that your readers will associate with that name. Some of those you cannot predict, because they are based on personal experience. But some of them will be almost universal standards based on the meanings of the names.

You also need to pay attention to your setting when naming a character. For example, if one of the characters from Pride and Prejudice had been named Tiffany or Lana that would have been weird! It would have  caused a mental bump for the readers. They might not have realized why it was awkward or uncomfortable for them, but they would know that it  broke the spell that was being weaved by the author. When you look up the name on your baby name site, they will have an origin listing. The origins of a name will aid in your determination of whether it is appropriate for your character, setting and plot.

Character's names need to work together, defining their relationships with one another. For example, twins often have names that sound similar like Jen and Julie. To do this with two friends in your story may indicate a deeper bond than just friends.

Despite its lack of commonality in reality, we like couples names to flow together. Having two very incongruous names, like Toby and Graciella, for your main characters may be awkward if they are to have a romantic interest in one another. But having names that are too similar, like Jeff and Jen, may be banal. It is important to make sure that the names work together, like Romeo and Juliet! (But please do not decide to go with Rome and Julie, unless you are doing a modern re-take of Romeo and Juliet... even then... maybe not!)

Do not neglect this very important aspect of your writing. Make sure you get the right name for your character so that people will care to remember them! What are some great character names you have come up with? Worst character names ever? Share in the comments below!

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