Sin #13: What’s in a name?
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose.
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
Yeah, that may be true for roses Juliet but most writers think a character by any other name just might not have the same impact.
Some writers prefer to spend a long time picking names for their characters while are others are content to stick a pin in the phonebook and stick with whatever they get. I think I fall somewhere in between these two groups, seemingly plucking names from the ether but then analysing them to see if they suit the character and my story.
Although since I’m preaching about careful analysis of character names I might as well mention the big mistake I noticed recently in my current novel. My two main characters were named Charlie and….Harley.
Yep, that’s right I somehow managed to get 40,000(ish) words into my novel without realising that most chapters sounded like something out of a Dr. Seuss book.
“That’s gnarly, Charlie,” said Harley as they walked through the barley.
Although I’m glad to say almost 80,000 words in the mistake has been rectified.
Anyway, enough about my mistakes…
When it comes to choosing a characters names, a lot of people try and pick a name which ‘suits’ certain characteristics in a MC. Bruno for a bulky bodybuilder, Norbert for a nerd, Candy for a dumb blonde…stereotypical as a French man covered in garlic.
But if you think about celebrities we all know and love…
Bruce the action hero
Alice the demonic singer
Arnold the bodybuilder
Names that don’t follow the expectations we have built up for the characters they play and the roles they fill. But that’s how life works. When you name a child you have no idea what they will be like when they grow up, you don’t know if they will be hunky, ugly, skinny, funny…or ginger.
People tend to grow into their names rather than live up to the stereotypical associations we associate with a certain label. I think the same can be said of fictional characters; we shouldn’t spend weeks agonising over the ‘perfect’ name and instead pick a name that suits the story.
The main thing to focus on when naming characters is avoiding potential clashes. While in real life there may be four Jeff’s in your office, it would be a little strange – not to mention confusing – to have four characters with the same name in your novel.
The same goes for characters with similar sounding names. If your novel has a Jeff, a John, a Jack and a Jill then there may be several scenes that have your readers pulling out there hair in frustration.
A good name is as memorable as any action scene or dramatic speech. Names such as Atticus Finch, Sherlock Holmes, Boris Dragosani, Ignatius Perrish, Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, Skulduggery Pleasant, etc.
All fantastic names…or are they? Would they still be amazing names if the characters had been dull, lifeless and boring? Of course not! It wasn’t the names that made the characters unforgettable…it was the characters themselves!!
So, go out there and create amazing characters and let the names sort themselves out!