Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What's in a name anyway?

Tip of the Day: Does anyone else feel like they can't get anything else done when the Olympics are on?

What’s in a name?


What would it be if Edward’s name in Twilight was really Walter, which was an equally popular name the time he was born? Do you think people would have created Team Walter t-shirts? Maybe. But maybe not.

Character names not only give away character traits, but they help shape the character in the reader’s mind. And the better the character name, the more likely your reader is to remember it and possibly even connect with your character (or swoon over him if that’s your goal).

One of the most important things I like to think about when developing my character and their name together is what does the name say about them or even more importantly sometimes what does it not say about them (because describing what a character wishes their name would be could give more development than just stating the name their parents gave them):

  • Why was the person named this? After a city, a dead relative, or a car?
  • Is the person constantly referred to by their last name (as was my case growing up since I had a funny last name)?
  • Do they prefer a middle name or a nickname because they dislike their real name?
  • Do they always get called by their real name but long for someone to give them a nickname?
  • Is their siblings name much cooler than there’s and they are constantly jealous about it?

Explaining why the character has a certain name or nickname really helps the person resonate with the reader in my opinion.

Almost all of my character names happen by accident. I just start thinking about a character and a name instantly pops in my head. Sometimes the name sticks. Sometimes it doesn’t. Other times I have to search for hours in a Baby Name book to get the right name, or search online--as is the case for the book I’m writing now since many of the characters are from different countries.

There are so many variables with names, and a lot of it comes down to gut and instinct.
Whenever I come up with a name, I use it for a few chapters. If it feels right, then I usually stick with it. If not, then I try out a new name.

Luckily, your characters don’t have to be stuck with the same name for life (or at least until your book is published) and when a better character name presents itself you can always change it up. The “replace all” feature comes in real handy at this point. Especially if you are like me and decide to change a character’s name once you are on page 200. Several times I’ve switched a character’s name only to keep calling them by the old name and decided I couldn’t see them as anything else but their original name, so I change it back.

But there’s nothing more satisfying then finding the perfect name for a character and I think all of us are constantly on the hunt for that!

--Emily, Miss Querylicious


Stina said...

Considering Walter is the name of my father-in-law, you're right, it definitely wouldn't have had the same appeal as Edward.

Good, so I'm not the only one who spends hours dwelling on names and lives for the baby name websites even though I'm not pregnant. Great post!

Alissa Grosso said...

I actually keep a notebook full of interesting names for characters, and when I'm stuck refer to that.

Kate Fall said...

A notebook is a good idea. And nicknames are so important, especially for guy characters. Like when I was in college, we had a guy friend who gained a little beer weight, and his buddies started calling him Heavy D. Now could you imagine girls doing that to their friends? Ha! Definitely, guys use the nickname and last name thing in very male ways.

Sara {Rhapsody and Chaos} said...

With my first MC the name, just like you wrote of, literally popped into my head and stayed there. For my second book, I was visiting my mom at work (she's a teacher) and I loved a student's name and knew I'd use it for my new MC.

But I do love to research names too and all of my last names/secondary character names (usually) have a lot of meaning toward who the character is.

Emily Marshall said...

Great ideas everyone. I do keep an Excel file (I know I'm a dork) of first girl names, boy names, and last names I like just in case. I forgot to mention that, but I actually don't refer to it that much except when trying to figure out secondary character names.

Hilary Wagner said...

I love making up names! I like names that are weird, but not unbelievable, although I did just name a rat Cobweb. I don't think (at least I hope) that's something someone would name their child! ;)

xoxo -- Hilary