Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet....?

Was Shakespeare right?  Are names really so unimportant that a writer need not worry about them?

Maybe in Shakepeare's world but not now.  As far as I can tell, it seems to be a hot topic for most aspiring writers.  Just log on to the Writer's Digest message boards and I'll bet you'll find at least a dozen postings disussing names.

Personally, naming my characaters has always been a spiritual experience--they tend to name themselves.
I know that sounds like a bunch of malarkey but it's true; I've never had to think about my character's first names. 
Their last names are a different story though because last names have to represent a lot more of your character than first names do. 
For instance, you wouldn't name your main character Jane Smith if her parents were from China but you can get away with Jane Chong because her parents gave her an English name when the family moved to Seattle Washington in 1976. 
See what I mean?  First names should be the easy part.

I read somewhere that the biggest mistakes writers make when naming their characters is age-appropriateness.
For instance, if your main character is a 60-year-old man you probably don't want to name him Cody or Logan.  (Forget age-appropriate, I detest both of these names so I would never read your book)

Another issue to address, especially in dialogue is the use of a character's whole name. 
For instance, a lot of parents rarely call their kids by their whole name.  If your character's name is Margaret, her Mom (and most of her friends) probably calls her Maggie.  Or she may even use a term of endearment like Honey or Sweetie when conversing with her daughter. 
My main character's name is Shayna but her Dad never calls her Shayna in the dialogue.  He calls her by her nickname.
Shayna's brother's name is Oskar but she calls him Ossy in conversation.

Ok, I don't have to spell this out for you--you know what I mean.

Now, these tips all work in theory and if you're writing Fiction--not Science Fiction/Fantasy.  That genre demands a lot more imagination when creating names for most Sc-Fi/Fantasy characters have a very strong connection to their name--they usually mean something.

That's why I stick to Fiction.  Writing is hard enough...I don't want to spend hours on end thinking up names for a Half-woman-Half-fairy creature with fire breathing ability.

Now, I'll leave you with some George Carlin--CLASSIC rant about stupid names:

What about you?  Do you find it difficult to name your characters?


Christi Goddard said...

I write fantasy. The human names come pretty easy, but those dang mudcovered sprites from HooDoo have to have special names. ;-)

Jai Joshi said...

This is funny. To be fair, it wasn't Shakespeare who said that but the character Juliet.

In many ways she's right but not from the perspective of a writer naming characters. There I'm with you. Naming my characters is very important and I spend a lot of time thinking about it. Some of them name themselves while others I name after only searching through every name in my baby name dictionary.


The Uneasy Writer said...

do you do that trick with blending two names for your fantasy characters? Or do they just come to you?

after reading your stories, I assume you would take awhile finding the right name. The names of your characters are very unique-or they're just unique to me..?

moderndaystoryteller said...

Shit you crack me up. This is why I don't write or read or watch fantasy. The half-fairy-half-woman thing freak me out. I can never remember their names and I sure as hell wouldn't want to have to come up with them.

When it comes to naming my characters, I'm like you, Sheri. They name themselves. First names at the very least. If I change their names, they refuse to come and my project is doomed before I turn on the computer. So I let them tell me and hope none of them will opt for Todd or Kyle - he's funny, that George.

moderndaystoryteller said...

Typo Nazi Alert!
Correction: The half-fairy-half-woman thing freaks me out.

Jai Joshi said...

Well, the names of the stories on my blog are the names of people in the Mahabharat epic poem so I don't choose them. I like that because it takes the work out of it! However those names are full of meaning.

Hmmm... Now you've got me thinking I should do a post about it to explain them. Thanks for the idea!