Friday, September 9, 2011

Naming Your Characters

                I put a lot of thought into naming my characters.  I want their names to mean something, to be important.  They’re not always reflections of the characters, sometimes they’re reflections of their family, their place, their journey.  My WIP’s main character is named Serendipity Jones, but she gets called Dip.  I started off calling her just Serendipity, then I tried Sera but it didn’t fit the character.  Then the name handed me Dip, which matched well with her aunt Daff and her boyfriend Danny.  Dip and Danny sound like a cool couple.  Her sister is named Alliana, automatically called Alli.  She has never been anything else.  When I wrote Dip’s scene with her pseudo father, I discovered he called her Dippy as a kid. 
                I’ve written characters named Phoenix called Nikki or Nix or even Phee.  I’ve written girls named Alice and Sophie.  I’ve written girls named Elektra (a sister to Phoenix, her name was later changed to Elaine). 
                A character’s name, to me, is a symbol of who they are and what they’re going to do in the story.  I know some authors regard this as secondary to knowing every detail of your characters down to what they like best for breakfast (Dip – chocolate chip scones, homemade or from Connecticut Muffin on ninth avenue) but to me knowing their name is important.  Knowing what they want to be called, whether it’s a full name or a nickname, is important to who they are. 
                I’m a Name Nerd, I love reading meanings and derivations for names.  I spend a lot of time on Behind The Name, Name Candy, and Baby Name Wizard.  I own a name book and spend hours debating the perfect name.  For many of my characters their names are the start of their identity.  Dip came to me as Serendipity Jones, a long drawn out unusual word name anchored by a short, to the point, Welsh surname.  Sometimes a character comes to me fully formed but nameless and I have to try names on them like you would try on coats at a department store.   Sometimes the names they give you don’t quite fit and you have to find a reason.  Dip’s mother Americanized her name when she immigrated here, she had a very Celtic name and changed it to the simple Lyssa.  Dip’s bff had no name at all for a long time because I couldn’t find just the right name.  I’m particular about names, they’re important. 
                Names tell us something about characters.  It might imply where their loyalties lie, it might imply their national origin, it might imply their personality.  No matter what it is, though, names are meant to tell us who these characters are more than any physical trait does.  Being named Jennifer makes it clear a character is an all American girl more than being blonde with blue eyes.  Naming a character Ophelia implies a tragic end to anyone familiar with Shakespeare. 
                Naming a character is as intricate and intimate as naming a child, but we writers have one thing parents don’t.  Knowledge.  We know our characters.  We know their personalities, their professions, and their lives.  We know if they are good or evil, loyal or traitorous, kind or cruel.  We know if they’re a nurse or a shop owner, a begger or a billionaire.  We know them in a way parents of a newborn don’t.  We know their futures. 
                This should, theoretically, make it easier.  You know your character will be a loyal, generous nurse say, so you don’t want to name her Bellatrix or you know your character is a treacherous thief so you won’t name him Honorus.  There’s so much to consider about a name.  Do you want the reference to be obvious?  Say naming a faerie queen Titania, or less so, say middle naming a thief Oliver?  Do you want the name to have absolutely nothing to do with what your character does or who they are?  Do you want the name to reflect their background as Jones reflects Dip’s Welsh heritage?  Do you want them to hate their name and go by something else?  All of these are valid considerations when naming a character just as when naming a child. 
Further Reading:
You can also check out any author blog where they will undoubtedly have a post about naming their characters. 
One example of such: Reading Writing Rachel 

Stay Tuned.

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