f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Day 2 of Characterization – Hi, My Name Is…My Name Is…My Name Is…

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Day 2 of Characterization – Hi, My Name Is…My Name Is…My Name Is…

You come for the writing discussion, but you stay for the Eminem references, I know.

Today we’re going to talk about what’s in a name. Really, there’s only one way to name a character—think back to all your baseball cards from the early 1980s and pick one player’s first name and another’s surname. Easy as pie. Any other method is crap.

Wait, you disagree?

Of course you do. We all have our own methods. I don’t really want to get into the hows of naming a character (although writers method are interesting—I do the baseball one on occasion) and instead want to focus on the whys.

Why did you choose that name? Here’s some possibilities…

A) It’s symbolic or allusional. Job or Ishmael. Eve or Holden or Blue… It can be done, but you risk veering toward heavy-handedness. I don’t want to see novels featuring Becky, Sarah, Abe, and Jake. Unless, possibly, if they’re satires.
B) It’s evocative. I think romance names shoot for this with all their Coltens and Rafes. Often this just invoke giggles.
C) It points to heritage. Juan and Diego are different characters from Xavier and Mischa.
D) It just sounded good. Hi, welcome to my world.

I cannot remember where the name Ian Merchant came from. Eve Lawson…well, Eve’s name needed to link with another character in the novel whose name came first—Evangeline Graveston.

The think I like about both of the names, though, is that they are both “normal” and yet “unique” all at the same time. I’m not using John Smith but I’m using Germand Ovaltine, either.
If you want to play with a character’s name, a nickname is often a good way to do that. “Scout” for instance…her real name is Jean Louise Finch. But isn’t she much more of a Scout?

When push comes to shove I think it’s a bit like naming your children. If you love the name, go with it. Others might not…but if your character grows into it, people will learn to like it. But don’t be afraid to change, either, if everybody hates the name. After Margaret Mitchell’s first name for her feisty heroine? Pansy O’Hara. Good things can come from flexibility.

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Go to Day 3 of our discussion of Characterization.