Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Conference Archives 2010: What's in a Name?
I'm reliving 2010 conference through the MP3 set. The audio sets are expensive, but well-worth it and I like to cheer myself with the reminder that I wouldn't be able to hear "all" the speakers in person anyhow.
Lately I've been enjoying Dennis Hensley. I was thrilled to find he is also a yearly speaker at Writing for the Soul conference, so I hope to download more of his audios.
One thing I've been pondering lately is the renaming of some of my characters. It took a critiquer to notice I broke one of the cardinal rules of naming characters. I have too many sound-alike names. From Jessalyn to Jared to Josiah, I was entranced with "J" names and they fluttered through my story.
Pondering name changes, I began listening to Dennis Hensley's audio entitled "Mastering Structure, Symbols, 3D Characters..." Let me tell you taking notes on some of these will result in a cramped hand and lots of rewinds to catch the "good bits."
Here are some of the different types of names, according to Hensley:
1) Symbolic names:
Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird comes quickly to mind. Finch and mockingbirds both being small and vulnerable birds. Finch was also Harper Lee's maiden name. His name shows the strength of the seemingly small individual.
Literature is stuffed with religiously symbolic characters, like Jim Casy whose initials and character traits make obvious John Steinbeck's purpose in creating him. Or like Evangeline in Uncle Tom's Cabin who heads up the T.G.T.L. club ("too good to live") along with Beth from Little Women and other favorites too numerous to name.
Baby namer is my favorite site for finding character names, but I'm sure there are loads more out there.
2) Ethnic names:
Behind the Name is a great site if you are looking for the history of a name and its origin.
My novel's main character is exiting a cult. In researching I found that certain names are popular within this cult.
Would your character have a name that's behind the times? Perhaps reading literature from the appropriate time period or country would help you find new name choices.
Pippi Longstocking is particularly Australian, the reader immediately associates her name with a location.
I think its important to be careful that we are being faithful to the ethnicity of our character, but not promoting ethnic stereotypes.
3) Regional names:
OK, the first thought that comes to mind here is Jim-Bob Duggar and Billy-Bob Thornton. The viewer is not shocked to learn that either man is from the Southern states. I'm a New Yaw-ker and I'm trying to think of New England names. Anyone help me out here?
Adding last name always works great for emphasis. The more of our name our mother used the longer our grounding sentence might be.
What are some of your favorite names from literature (or life)? How did you name the main character in your current WIP?