Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Name Is Everything

Why do we labor over choosing the right name for characters? Because a name is important...really important. A name embodies the life of the character - who they are, their dreams, their ideals, their essence. And face it, when you hear a name, you picture a certain type of person, right?

So let's experiment. What do you picture when you hear the name Jorge Rodriguez? Is it this?


Hhhmm, you probably thought something more like this:



Okay, let's try another one. What do you picture when you hear the name Billy Bob Clampett? Is it this:


Mmmm, mmmm, mmmm. I bet you were picturing something more like this:



What do you picture when you hear the name Chadwick Ashburne? This?


Surely you were thinking more along the lines of this:


You see, when you name your character, you must choose wisely, picking a name that clues the reader in on what kind of person the character is. If you describe your business man, Chadwick,  as an overall-wearing-hick, your reader will be confused. The name should match the man.

I'm sure there are times when you may want to change things up and add a little humor to your story. But it doesn't seem likely that a senator married to a top model would be named Billy Bob Clampett. It could happen, but it's just not likely.

So tell me, how do you name your characters? Do you like to find unusual names? Do your names fit your characters? Do you think it matters?



22 comments:

Sandra Stiles said...

Most of the time I find the names are there when the story idea is. If not then I use a baby name book and read down until the name speaks to me. With one of the books I'm working on I researched names popular in that country at the time the story takes place. Sometimes we need to make sure we are accurate for the time period.

Angie said...

I have used names that have a meaning behind them that describes the character...but lately, a name just pops into my head, and as I write, if it sounds off, I am willing to change it. Thanks for making me think on this one! I probably need to be more careful so I don't have Billy Bob Clampett popping into the mind of my reader when they think of my hero! :)

Beth K. Vogt said...

Sometimes a name pops into my head. Or I use a friend's name--never as a villain, of course! It's fun to honor a friend with a walk-on role in a WIP. I also have used baby name books and I've even gone online and googled last names based on heritage, ie German, English, Scottish, etc. That's been fun. I found the last name of the heroine for my current WIP while I was watching "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." (And I double-checked. It's four "Mads" in the movie title! I always want to add one. LOL)

Sarah Forgrave said...

I think this is such an important component to think through, Sherrinda! Since I infuse humor into my writing, I like to put a unique twist on some of the minor characters' names. But I'm talking really minor characters. The main characters have to 'fit' their names.

Great post!

Diane said...

I often think about my son whose first name is Italian and Estrella is Spanish.... He is blonde haired and blue eyed so people will wonder about what part of the world he came from I'm sure. :O)

Laurel Garver said...

I do a combination of things. First, I look at the Social Security website to see what names were popular (and how popular) when each character was born. With that list in hand, I chose based on meaning. I also lean on a book called _The Baby Name Personality Survey_ which looks at names' image in popular understanding.

Since I have an unusual name that is frequently misspelled and mispronounced, I tend to stay away from unusual names. The only exception is an Irish family in the story I'm currently drafting--their names are Conn, Dierdre, Sorcha, Laughlin and Maeve. Part of the point is to show their obsession with their ethnicity without having to say so explicitly.

H. N. Stone said...

I'm actually in the process of naming my main characters, and whoo-boy is it difficult! Sometimes, the name just comes to me, but most of the time I labor and agonize over the right one . . . for all the reasons you just mentioned! A name is a huge part of a character's identity, particularly when you take into account nicknames that might have been saddled on them at one point or another in their lifetime, and consequently deserves care in deciding.

Thankfully, it seems that great names are everywhere! Newspapers, show credits, boring educational pamphlets, baby name books. Just a matter of finding that needle in a haystack to thread the name with the character. =)

Tessa Emily Hall ~ Christ is Write said...

I try finding names that fit my characters, and most of the time it's the first name to pop into my head. I either come up with the personality of the character, their appearance, etc. and base their name from who they are, or I do the opposite - choose the name first then base everything from that name. I also love looking up the meaning of names because usually that also has a lot to do with a character.

Great post! =)

Jessica R. Patch said...

Names matter! Usually they come to me pretty easily. I like to use a name that has meaning to the person or to his/her story or even an ironic name--like Sophie which means wisdom, but then the character is rather foolish. Great post. Great pics. ;)

Sherrinda said...

Sandra, you bring up a great point. Sometimes you have to search for surnames in the country where they are from. Last names would really differ between Spain and Ireland! ;)

Sherrinda said...

Angie, I know what you mean...sometimes my character's names just pop into my head too! Most often, that works, but for some characters...I gotta think it through.

Sherrinda said...

Beth, what a fun idea! I will have to think about honoring one of MY friends with a part in a book! I have the perfect person in mind too!!! If you had a snarky friend, maybe they wouldn't mind you using them as a villain. ;)

Sherrinda said...

Sarah, I think minor characters are great for humor, and making their name unique and a little 'off' is a perfect way to showcase them!

Sherrinda said...

Laurel, I love the idea of looking at the Social Security site for names. That has never occurred to me! And I totally understand about the unusual name. I was just a Williams before I got married, and then I had to go a marry a Ketchersid. Sigh. :)

Sherrinda said...

HN Stone, you are right--great names are everywhere. It is just a matter of the hunt! So happy hunting!

Sherrinda said...

Tessa, I've done that very same thing! I've picked a name first and then fit the personality to the name, and then I've tried to name the personality. It has worked just fine both ways!

Sherrinda said...

Jessica, I think that is awesome naming your character "ironically"! It gives a fun dimension to the character...a bit of humor. :)

Eileen Astels Watson said...

I try to pick a name that suites their demographics and characteristics. I sometimes find myself changing the names along the way as my characters reveal themselves more.

Sherrinda said...

Eileen, isn't it weird how a character can change throughout the book and the name doesn't fit? I've had that happen and it is soooo strange to change their name!

MaryC said...

I usually feel the right first names for my characters but I generally struggle with last names.
It's really important for me to get the name first. I can't even begin working on the story until I have the names of the main characters. Other characters are more flexible and may change over the course of the story.

Keli Gwyn said...

I loved the visuals at the beginning of your post, Sherrinda. What a fun way to show the importance of a name.

I give a great deal of thought to my characters' names. Since I write historicals, I make sure the names were in use in my period.

One thing I keep in mind is what letter the characters' names start with. Having two names that are close can be confusing. There are two very similar names in my first book, though, but that was done for a reason. =)

Pepper said...

Oh Sherrinda,
So sorry I'm late. What a fun post! I LOVE naming characters. And I was DEFINITELY seeing #2 pic for Chadwick. Oh yeah!
I have two names similar in one of my books, but it's because the grandson was named after his grandfather. Love this! :-)