All Because of Chickens

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Saturday Morning Musings: Importance of Character Naming

Happy Saturday Everyone!

Hope the week went well for you all. Don't forget to find some time to read this weekend, always a great way to relax.

Have you ever wondered about the names writers use? How the found them? Do they have any meaning to the writer? Are names important to a you the reader?

You guessed it. We're asking our authors to muse on: What/How/Why...the importance on character naming.

Let's see what they have to offer.

Approaching this question as a reader: if it's too old-fashioned for the time period, I am majorly turned off (likewise with too new for an older time period.) If it's an ugly name (in my mind), I'm likely to despise the character. If it's a hard-to-pronounce/long name, I might just put down the book, because who wants to read about the adventures of Hadderbarfflaghjerham? And if the characters all rhyme or alliterate, that gets way too confusing. In short: anything that might make the reader put the book down = BAD.


Why: Character names are important because they can prejudice or predispose us to have an impression of the character, of the book, and/or of the author. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and one chance is all your character may get during the ever-important in-store pre-buy flip-through (enough hyphens for y'all?)

How: To better name characters, go to sites like Behind the Name for popularity, meaning, origins, etc.

What is the importance: Fairly extreme.

As an aside, I've developed a strange habit of christening my male leads with names that begin with A. Huh.

I've been writing a science fiction series (book four just came out), so I faced naming not only Terrans (us) but aliens as well. For my aliens, I wanted names that sounded foreign without being so strange that they were difficult to remember or pronounce. I also had a pretty good number of them, even in the first book, so I needed some help.

What did I do? A couple of things. First of all, I decided to base the names off of Arabic or Persian names, and glommed onto a Farsi name generator on the web. I went over the generated names and either used then as-us, or modified them by taking the first couple of syllables or changing consonants. I also did something similar with my foreign-born co-workers. This gave me enough names for my initial set of characters.

As to the Terrans, I ended up with fairly strong feelings about their names, too, mostly about how they sounded. I had initially named the father of the main character in my first novel "Kevin," but my reading group thought this was too close to "Keth," my main character's name, so I ended up renaming the father "Gavin." Notice the similarity of sounds.

Generally, when I create a character, I think very carefully about the name. Not only must it fit the time frame in which the character lives but it must also fit in with their background, ethnicity and any other relevant factors. I am always very careful about choosing names and I know when what I consider to be the perfect fit for a character, comes to mind. However, I've often wondered if other people agree with my choices so I decided to carry out some rather unscientific research on Facebook. I posted three names and with each name, I listed three characters or companies and asked my friends to select the one they considered matched the name.
1) Crispin
a) Evil troll
b) Kindly elf
c) Malicious wizard

2) Pervis & Squint
a) High class butcher's shop
b) Garden centre
c) Mail order racy, lacy, ladies lingerie

3) Mr. Krapowski
a) Wily, entrepreneurial fox in the entertainment business
b) Prime minister
c) A forgetful frog

Crispin, Mr. Krapowski  and Pervis & Squint have all appeared in stories that I've written but are not known to most of my Facebook friends. Interestingly, not one person matched all the names with the characters or business 'correctly'. I must admit I was rather surprised at the answers given but even more surprised when someone suggested Pervis & Squint should be an opticians, after which, several other friends selected opticians too even though I hadn't given it as an option! I have to say, I think they have a point!

When I chose the name for the secondary character of my first novel I wanted her to be someone whose name would convey immediately her social status and her personality. I have known a lot of Jennifers and usually they are the kind of girls who live up to their name. But I wanted her last name to show status as well so I chose Taylor. Having her be named Jennifer Taylor shows who she is. You want to meet someone named Jennifer Taylor.

For Jennifer’s boyfriend I chose a name of a hot guy, Brad and added the distinctive Morrow to show that he, too, was someone who was popular and also approachable. For the teachers, the gym teacher’s name Ms. Gaylon reminded me of a gym teacher. For the math teacher I wanted someone who sounded tough, so I named him Mr. Armbruster. It almost sounds like arm buster. LOL

When I name characters I try to take into account the role they will play in the book. Sometimes the names come easily and sometimes a character might remain unnamed until he or she has shown where he or she belongs in the story. However, once I have named a character that name remains. In a comment from a beta reader one of them said that in my sequel to If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor, Who Is Jennifer Taylor? The name of the character and the name of a therapist are too close together. That may be, but I am not changing either of those names. The character’s name can’t be changed and the therapist’s name is her name. When I named her I felt this was the best one for her. So maybe while I am thinking about a name I might change it in my head, but that is rare. Usually a character’s name is the one they will have for the rest of the book.

A while ago I heard that it would be wise for parents to be careful what they named their children, because they often “grew into their names.”  That means when they grow up, they often portray the traits their names represent.

I have a book of baby names that I use when getting names for my characters.  I even used it to name a dog and the lambs in my Lessons From the Sheepfold, due out by MuseItUp this Fall/Winter.  In my new romance novel, the heroine’s name is Coriander.  I looked up the medicinal values of coriander and found that this herb is extremely helpful and useful, just like my character will be!

 I cannot begin a new historical romance until I have name the principal characters in my novels.

Sometimes I spend hours consulting The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names to make sure I have chosen those which are suitable for the period in which the novel is set.

A random example from The Dictionary is  Wendy first used by J,M. Barrie in his play Peter Pan, 1904.

To be honest, when I begin to read a novel inappropriate names such as Sky for a mediaeval heroine makes me laugh and lose faith in the author. If the author is determined to call the character Sky, or something equally unsuitable, it should be a nickname.

Not only do I ensure Christian names and surnames are appropriate for the era in which my novel is set, the names must suit the characters' personalities.

The short answer to this question, for me, is it depends...

Sometimes it matters a whole lot, especially when the character's name carries the whole book, like in the case of The Soul of Adam Short. The name had to sound right and engender an image of a person who might be interesting of himself, regardless of the adventures that befall him. The Soul of Arthur Dent doesn't have the same ring to it, even though it has the same number of syllables. I'm not saying Arthur Dent isn't a kick ass character, but if it wasn't for the interception of his mate Ford Prefect, he would have been a short-lived one. Likewise with Peter and the Little People, Peter is a common name, a name that evokes a good kid, and it fits with the rest of the title.

In some of my other stories, the character names are less essential, and have varied from draft to draft. When I originally wrote the novella which became Leaving the Pack, I had my leads as Corey and Kassandra (hey, it was the 80s!), then decided they needed to be very ordinary people, so called them Paul and Susan after my older siblings. They're still good robust names. My younger sibling, Barry, has yet to have a character named after him (for obvious reasons, but don't tell him).

In my second novel, Five Days on Ballyboy Beach, I had named my main character after myself, to give a sense that the events might be truer than they really are. However, the publisher thought such confusion might be a problem given they don't publish memoirs, so we changed him to Derek, which worked just as well - I know a couple of Dereks, and they'd be just as cheeky as my invented one.

As long as I have a good idea of who the character is, I don't much mind what they're called and have swapped names around as necessary. I recently read that characters introduced at the same time in a story should have names that start with different letters, so the classmates of Nicki, the heroine of my current WIP, who are called Siobhán, Sarah and Sandra, will all have to be tweaked. Just not until the first draft is done.

Keep reading and dreaming. If there’s anything you’re curious about just drop me a note:

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