What is in a name?

Nicknames stick to people, and the most ridiculous are the most adhesive.  ~Thomas C. Haliburton

Usually when I am writing a novel I am quite fussy about my names. I either want a specific sound. Or I am aiming for a meaning or association with something such as the sun or moon or any number of other objects. Sometimes, although not usually, I will have a character arrive in my mind and introduce themselves fully named. I once had a character arrive and say hello my name is Will – you’re going to need me. It unnerved me because I had written two-thirds of the first draft of novel-1 when he did this.

It is interesting to see what names of character evoke. For example, let’s take the characters from my description from Wednesday – Miss Andrews, her sister (Mrs. Saunders), and Mr. Saunders. From the way they are addressed they’re probably not from the modern times. For the most part we don’t go around addressing people by Mr. Smith and Miss Johnson anymore. It seems to stiff and formal for our modern form of communication. We usually address people by their first names such as Jane or John.

There is also the question of what are their first names and how does that affect their characters? And do we get a picture of where our characters are from by the names we give them? Right now, without giving my description’s cast any first names they seem vaguely British. Perhaps they hark from the last nineteenth or early twentieth century. Their parlor had a fireplace, but no television or radio. We don’t know what other technology they have access too.

Does the perception of the reader change when we give our characters first names? When it is revealed that Miss Andrews’ first name is Eleanor or that her sister is Prudence and her brother-in-law is Charles. The first women’s names seem a bit on the old-fashioned side. Charles is pretty common overall. These names evoke pictures of what sorts of people who these characters are or might be.

Names are powerful. They can help to provide dimension to the world of the story I am trying to bring alive.  Some of my favorite fictional names include Fitzwilliam Darcy, Albus Dumbledore, and Gandalf the Grey. Each provides a different picture of whom that man is. I love how names can help to paint the picture of our world. What are some of your favorite character names?

©K. Klein 2012

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2 Comments

Filed under nanowrimo, writing

2 responses to “What is in a name?

  1. In the South, everyone here is still addressed as “Mr.” or “Ms.” I have a hard time with naming characters in my novels and stories…Once for college I always wrote short stories and my Creative Writing Prof said I had a tendency to name everyone with names that end with a “y” or “ie” sound. Now I avoid those like the plague…lol. I am still a fan of “Katniss” and “Primrose” as character names though…

    • I didn’t even think to account for regional differences in the way that we address one another. 🙂 And it is interesting to see that Suzanne Collins didn’t go for the typical plant-based names such as Lily or Violet. She chose botanical names out of the beaten path. 😀

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