Thursday, November 11, 2010

What's In A Name?

When it comes to naming the character or novel, sometimes those great and infamous names just escape us. Or maybe we don't put enough stock in them.
A good name to stand on it's own feet, long after the book has been written, published and consumed by the reader, is a name that will stick in the hallowed halls of the reader's thoughts. A name that will conjure up an image of your story or the character that personified it.

A name has to match the character. It has to be orginal, but not so orginal that it is hard to remember. A name that is too "out there" will be just as quickly forgotten as an old and worn out name.

Like with feelings, I do think we need to avoid cliched names. A name that has been used too frequently will be lost on the reader, where they won't even remember it enough to write the review. (and this has  happened to me)

A name has to have a meaning behind it. Maybe not the literal meaning, but it has a resonsance to it that means something to you and the character. If you decide to go with a literal meaning, it is good to think of how that name represents your character. For example: Mary means bitter. Is your character bitter about something? If not, you might want to consider some other name. It doesn't have to be mentioned in the story, it would be best if you didn't, but I know that when I hear that name, I often think of someone who has a "bitter" quality to them

Religion, ethnicity, nicknames, these can all play into the resonance of your character's name.

The same can be said for titles. You want a title that will grab the reader's attention, since that might very well be the first thing that they see. Aside from the cover, that is one of the biggest attention grabbers your book can produce. And since the best way is to learn by experience (and since I am terrible at naming things), I wanted to share some titles and character names that I think are truly memorable.

Courting Morrow Little by Laura Frantz is a book that I believe says a great deal not only in the title, but also the name of the character. Because she is so memorable, Morrow Little is a name that sticks in my memory. But the title also grabs the reader. Courting inplies to several men who are looking at this beautiful young woman. But once you read the book, you realize it really isn't about men seeking Morrow's heart, but God. Chasing after her to show her His love for her.

The PJ Sugar series by Susan May Warren, I believe is brilliant! Talk about a name and personality to match. Because while it is great to have a stellar and memorable name, it will go nowhere without a personality to back it up. You can have the greatest name, but if your character is under developed, your story and name are going to fall flat on it's face without a leg to get back up on. So while it is important to pick the perfect name for the perfect character, it is also equally, if not more so important to build that memorable character. Because a memorable character can take an ordinary name and make it extraordinary.

PJ is a tomboy character so the nickname is perfect. It personifies her and that along with character traits, make her larger than life.

The characters in this book are simply marvelous, but I want to focus on the title for this time around. A Passion Most Pure. It says a lot, don't you think? It implies the romantic passion that accompy the woman and man on the front cover, but the pure part it what sparks the interest in readers. You don't often here of pure passion, so to see such a title makes me want to pick the book up off the shelf. The same goes for the other two books in the series,  A Passion Redeemed  and A Passion Denied, speaks very highly of what you are going to find within the pages of the novel.

A truly good title will give the reader a glimpse into the world of the book. Because like it or not, much of the first impression of a book comes from the title and cover. When we pick up a Love Finds You book, we expect a love story and not a murder mystery. When we pick up one of Julie Lessman's Passion books, we expect a romance because of the title in and of itself. Think carefully when you title something. Don't let it be evasive, let it have a meaning that intrigues the reader.

I just had to include this novel, because I love this book so much. The Frontiersman's Daughter, who can forget the story and a lovely name like Lael Click? Even after several months of finishing this book, I can still see her name and face in my mind. To be able to build a character around a name or vice versa is simply stunning.
And my favorite of favorites novel title is The Familiar Stranger by Christina Berry. Talk about a title the says so much and yet so little! It immediately sparks an interest in the reader, how can a stranger be familiar? And with a story to back it up that sweeps the reader away, this book is truly memorable on every single count.

There have been so many memorable character names in the history of fiction.

Anne Shirley
Sherlock Holmes
Dr. Watson
Scarlet O'Hara
Tom Sawyer
Huckleberry Finn
Silas Marner
Atticus Finch
Oliver Twist
Jo March
Mary Lennox

And the list can go on and on.

What is your opinion of names and do you have more to add to my list? There are so many more out there!


Renee Ann said...

I've always relished this line by C. S. Lewis, "There was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubbs, and he almost deserved it." I love all the characters you mentioned. And I don't want to be a Scrooge about it, but some characters names make me glad to keep my own! Like . . . Wimpy . . . Augustus Gloop . . . Moriarty . . . Doolittle . . . LOL!

As you can see, I enjoyed this post!

Julie Lessman said...

Casey, what a fun, FUN post!!! I just LOVE the topic of book titles and character names!!! My two favorites, of course, are (for a character) Scarlett O'Hara (a la the picture posted above, heady and dangerous like a glass of scarlet wine with just as much bite) and Gone With the Wind for a book title, which to me conjures up a tornado of change that whirls and wields destruction before sweeping the past away. So, YES, titles and names ARE very important, at least to me! To this day, when I hear the name Ebenezer Scrooge, I automatically wrinkle my nose!!

Thank you for your kind comments about my book titles given above for "The Daughters of Boston" series (originally "The Winds of God" series), which I happen to love now because they are dead-on for each book. BUT ... I also loved my original titles, which were all taken from "wind" Scriptures that actually gave a glimpse into each book and ... uh, bore allegiance to the book that inspired me to write in the first place -- Gone With the Wind! :)

For instance, A Passion Most Pure was originally A Chasing After the Wind, from Ecclesiastes, which for me, depicted a "chasing after the wind" of God (the Holy Spirit) for the heroine while at the same time perfectly nailed the motivation of the hero in "chasing after the wind" of futility with women and drink. Book 2 A Passion Redeemed was originally "Chaff Before the Wind," which depicted the faith of the heroine before she (and it) gets blown and tossed, finally bringing her to her knees before God. And finally, A Passion Denied was originally "On the Wings of the Wind," talking about messengers of God who carry His Word "on the wings of the wind," again describing the hero to a T.

Sorry to ramble on, but you definitely struck a wonderful chord with me on your blog today, obviously! Soooo fun!!


Laura Frantz said...

Oh, Casey, another wonderful post from you yet again:) And so happy to be included here with Jules and all the rest! Okay, you both have really got me going this morning...

The Frontiersman's Daughter was originally titled "Dogwood Winter" as it reflected the spiritual theme in Lael's life. Courting Morrow Little was called "Red River Daughter" but nixed because it was too similar to Lauraine Snelling's series by that name. Morrow is the name of one of Billy Graham's granddaughters and I've always loved it. Lael is of Hebrew origin and means "belonging to God." I didn't know this till I finished the book and it brought me to my knees!

Would love to hear your working title and character names sometime, dear Casey!!

Laura Frantz said...

Oh, I actually remember your working title very well come to think of it! Now I'm really curious about character names you've thought up but I'll be patient! OH MY, I didn't see Renee Ann up there! Bless you all!

Casey said...

Such fun comments!!

Renee Ann, that line is too funny that Lewis wrote, thanks for sharing it! And the phrase that backs of the name is enough to make me remember that name. I think a lot making a story memorable is how the book is written. Why else would we remember a character like Atticus Finch? But the writing and the charatization make it everything.

Casey said...

JULIE! Thank you so much for stopping by! That is fascinating about your titles. I love the ones now, but the orginal ones you had picked still fit the story, IMO. I know publishers can change titles very easily, but I am a firm believer that if you come up with a great one on your own, it gives them a glimpse into the story right off the bat. At least that is what I tried to do with Releasing Yesterday.

You could ramble from here to kingdom come and I wouldn't complain in the least. :) Thanks so much for stopping by today!!!

Casey said...

Laura, LOVE that Dogwood Winter title. Maybe you'll have to use it in another book. I have always just loved your titles and names for your characters. There is something very unique and different, while also building around them a world and charactization that really draws me into the story. I can't wait to meet Roxanna. And with your history, I know the story will make her very memorable.

I hope I can introduce my characters soon to you, but I wouldn't hold a great deal of breath. :) I think their charactization is still kind of shallow. That is a huge weight hovering over me right now, how can I make her better, deeper?? Only time and more learning will tell! :)

Thanks so much for visiting today, friend!

Laura Frantz said...

Casey, Take heart. My current WIP seems a bit shallow, too, and I'm going to print out the first 200 pages I've written and try to beef it up:) Prayers with you, dear writer friend! I know just how it goes... Back to work for me!

Angie Dicken said...

I love NAMES! I can't use a name without knowing the meaning behind it. And how much fun is it to brainstorm titles for a wip? Sometimes I get stuck in a too-deep meaning for a title and run the risk of being the only one who understands it.
I am going to admit that I never really thought about one of my fave character's names until you brought it up...Scarlett O' perfect!

Casey said...

Oh, I'll be praying for you too Laura! I value that more than you will EVER know! It keeps me going during the tough areas. Bless you, friend.

Casey said...

I love names too Angie, alas I am very poor at coming up with stellar ones. I feel sorry for my future children. I will probably have Dick and Janes running around the house. Not those are bad, my Grandpa's name is Dick. :)

OK, back to business. I wonder at too deep meanings too, especially in the writing, not so much in titles. But brainstorming sounds like great fun! I hope to be involved in one of those sessions someday. :)

Julia M. Reffner said...

Great post, Casey! And I loved hearing about how Laura and Julie chose the titles.

Some that will stick with me forever:
Boo Radley
Tess Durbeyfield
Jean Val Jean
Miss Havisham
Wilbur & Charlotte
Ramona Quimby

Casey said...

So glad you added to the list, Julia! Though the only ones I recognize are Wilbur and Charlotte and Ramona Quimby. And is Pip, Pippy Longstocking? Oh my, I should have added her to that list! I read nearly all of Beverly Cleary's books growing up so I am surprised I didn't think of Ramona. I want to see the new movie they have made based on that book.

Kav said...

How about Tikki Tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo? Now there's a name I'll never forget! LOL. I LOVE saying it! (It's from a Chinese folktale.)

Loved hearing from Laura and Julie about their title changes. I'm wondering how many authors start out with a working title? Or do they just live with 'untitled' as they write? I'm thinking it takes quite a bit of effort to come up with a title that suits the book.

Casey said...

What an interesting name Kav! Did you have to look it up to know how to spell that? :)

I think it would be interesting to know what methods authors use with their titles. I like them and I know Deborah Raney can't work without a title for her current WIP. It gives her a mental picture of where she is going with her work. I would like to know what percentage of titles are actually kept once authors hit publication.

Thanks for coming by today!