Monday, February 7, 2011

Name Calling

What's in a name?

I know my Mom and Dad argued about what they were going to name us. You’d think since they had nine kids, they could simply take turns. Nope. One of my brothers actually came home from the hospital with “Boy” listed on his birth certificate because Mom and Dad couldn’t agree.

Dad wanted to name him Shenandoah. Mom didn’t. She wasn’t going to give in. And so “Boy” is the name shown on his birth certificate.

My sister and I have rhyming names. I kind of think Mom was running out of ideas and at the bottom of her list, when we came along. People sometimes think we’re twins because our names are so similar. I think it’s funny because I’m older ;) She doesn’t.

But as writers we all have to ask ourselves what is in a name? How should the name reflect on our characters? Should they sound strong and forceful or meek and mild and can names do that for a character? It’s like predisposing our characters to certain traits simply because of their name.

Harry Potter, for instance, was a rather mundane name for a wizard but there must have been hidden meaning in his name…right? I looked it up to see what it means. Can you guess?

It means "Army Ruler". Or according to the UK, it comes from the name Henry, which was a name for Kings. So, maybe it's not so unusual for a special wizard.

This is just to remind all your writers and/or parents out there: names have a huge impact on people and we should consider them strongly when we are writing and/or planning how we want to portray or pre-dispose the "people" in our stories.

9 comments:

Cheree said...

Names are such an important thing. They're the first thing readers are introduced to, and the one thing they're likely to remember. When thinking of names I turn to the meanings if I'm stuck and don't have one in mind, trying to find names that have good meanings that represents the character I'm creating.

David Batista said...

I'm the opposite. I name my characters with the most random sounding names I can think of. I guess my one consistent quirk is that I don't normally use typical Westernized names. Then again, I write science fiction, so this practice makes more sense in that genre. :)

I, myself, was named after King David of the Bible. My mother picked this name to please my grandma, who's very religious. My middle name, James, is after my Grandpa who died when my mom was only 2.

Kelly said...

When my first child was born, my hubby and I wrote down our top three names for a boy. My third choice matched his second choice and it was the only one that matched so that is how we named our first son.
If we had a daughter I wanted to name her Emma, my husband wanted Emily. It was decided Emily when my best friend's mom left a message saying Emma Polark sounded like I'm a Polack. :) So Emily it was.
And our third child is named Jack Danial. But not why you think. He was named after my hubby's uncle who died trying to save a coworker. But coincidentally guess what my hubby's fave whiskey is now?
With stories, I also find it hard to choose names!

Nora MacFarlane said...

I agree - names are important. My children are named after family. My son, Benjamin, is named after his great-grandfather. My daughter, Taylor, is named after my mother's maiden name. If she'd been a boy her name would have been West, after my grandmother's maiden name.

Names say a lot, so I spend time thinking about my character's names too. Names can lend strength or be a hindrance. Think about the boy named Sue!

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Names are SO important! That's why it ticks me off when people give their kids goofy names--this is serious business! And a great character name makes such a difference, too.

Adrienne said...

My son came to me one day and said, "Um, thanks for not naming me Cotton."
He had found my list of baby name choices, where I had scribbled down the name Colton. I guess my handwriting is pretty sloppy...
And yeah, I'm very selective about names for everything - kids, pets, characters.

Marcia said...

I agree that names are extremely important. I named my kids names that don't normally take nicknames, so I'd know they'd be called what I actually named them.

Christina Farley said...

I didn't know that Harry Potter meant that. So cool!

Kim Kasch said...

Cheree: You're right - names give the first impression.

David: I love that you're named for a King - just like Harry Potter - maybe you've also got secret powers ;)

Kelly: I love the name Emma - it's one of my niece's names.

Nora: West would have been an interesting one. I wonder if he would have been Wild... ;)

Adrienne: I think I would have loved the name cotton :p

Marcia: I tried to give all my kids strong sounding names: Jake, Luke, Kara. Strong consonants. If I'd had another boy he would have been Nick. I see a pattern.