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Friday, November 4, 2011

What's in a Name?


A good friend of mine called yesterday to let me know that he had just left the doctor's office with his wife and they learned that they are having a little girl.  They already have a son, and are thrilled to be adding a daughter to their family.  And now, the discussion about names will begin.  Some couples read every baby book and website possible, sifting through hundreds of names in search of the perfect one.  Others choose to honor family members by passing down a name from a previous generation.  Or, there are times when both mom and dad just know right away that a certain name is meant to be for their baby.

If you are a writer like me, you know that creating your characters is much like giving birth.  While there certainly is no physical comparison to the effort, we certainly spend time thinking about the people we are developing, wondering how they will turn out, and introducing them to the general public with a sense of pride and protectiveness.  And, at some point, we also must provide our characters with names.

In my work, the names I select all mean something and were chosen with purpose.  Whether it's the all-American girl who works in the clubhouse or the fallen athlete who ended up on the wrong side of the socioeconomic divide or the businessman from the other side of the world, I play into cultural stereotpyes when selecting names and, I hope, promote some challeging conversations among my readers.

So, I would like to know from you -- what is your process for naming your characters?  Does the name come first with the full personality and other details to follow?  Or, do you need to step back and look at a developed character sketch and then pick a name that is fitting?  I want to know how you give birth to your characters.  I imagine it's probably a personal and emotional process for you as much as me.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Someday, when I begin to write the great American novel in my head, many of the characters will have names that mean something to me, but not necessarily to the reader. /gw

Eve S Nicholson said...

For me it happens one of two ways. I have had times where I hear a name and the temperment, looks, and personality of a character are already inbedded in it, and I will find a place for them in my story. Other times I have my characters and will search and reach for a name until I find the perfect fit. I must say I enjoy the name process either way. What a fun thing to "give birth" to so many and be able to name each one.

Marilyn D. said...

Choosing the names is the best part! I have a mental list of the character's attributes (some I jot down, my memory sucks) and then look up words to describe them. I love Latin, Gaelic and Slovak... then I put them together & see what I've come up with. Some names have exactly the meaning I was searching for, those are easy.

I know the character first, I see them... the name makes them real to me.

Rosanne Dingli said...

I have written a blog post exactly about this, James. Finding names for characters can be a difficult thing for some. Others don't give it a second thought... the names just occur and they're written. Have a look at how I see it here (I can't believe I wrote it that long ago. It feels like yesterday.
http://rosannedingli.blogspot.com/2010/09/giving-your-characters-appropriate.html

Heedless said...

I am not a writer, but I am enjoying your blog topics..I almost feel like writing after reading just a few...

2girlsonabench said...

We have such a hard time naming our characters, we debate the names forever because we want them to reflect he characters, sometimes we want them to have cool nicknames and sometimes we get stuck talking about how we hate certain names because they remind us of a mean girl from elementary school. :)