Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What's In A Name? A lot!

Forgive me blogger, for I have sinned. I have been a very boring blogger lately, and I apologize!! Profusely, no less.

To make it up to you, I promise to talk about meaty subjects for the next few weeks. Of course, many of you will have wandered away, (and rightly so) bored to tears by the lack of anything new going on here. That’s okay. Someday, in the distant future, you may wander back here and be happily surprised.

I thought I’d spent this week talking about names. Names you say? How is that a meaty subject?

Well, I get a fair amount of email asking me how I come up with the names in my book. For me, naming is a huge part of character. In fact, I cannot get very far in a novel until I have the correct name. I can be brainstorming and jotting down plot notes and some basic character sketching but until the true name clicks, I’m rudderless. The character doesn’t become real to me until that name solidifies.

The truth is, names matter. A lot. Both in real life and in fiction. So much goes into a name; parental hopes, ancestry, gender, ethnicity, and social status.

Because names carry all that weight, they can also be a hugely valuable tool in terms of world-building, setting an emotional tone, creating an integrated setting, and of course, characterization. The right name can also help anchor us in the story world, whether it be historical or contemporary or Other. Think how different the name Araminta is from Jennifer, or Carradoc is from Justin.

Plus all words have connotations, even names. The way they sound, feel, roll around in our mouths as we say them. All those elements affect how we perceive a name as well. As writers, we can use that, make it work for us. The names can do a significant amount of “showing” so we don’t have to waste time “telling.”

And then some letters are just funnier than others. I think u is the funniest of the vowels. Perhaps it's something as juvenile as being reminiscent of certain forbidden words, or hearkens back to the ugh of the caveman. I don’t know, but it amuses me.

There are also certain consonants that are funny (b, f, d, g, k) and others that are stately (s, t, r, c) and others still whose sound brings a lot to the table, (b, g, s, l, z) Let those inherent qualities in letters work for you as you choose your names.

(Of course, now you all know how slightly whacked I am about letters, but that can’t be helped.)

Tomorrow we'll talk about the different way names help convey shades of character.

p.s. Also, Mary Hershey and I are guest blogging today over on Becky Levine's blog about marketing tips for when you're pre-published, in case that's something you're interested in.



Such kindredness! Is that a word? I absolutely must know my character's name before I can write. Sometimes it jumps at me, sometimes it wriggles up next to me, but by the time I am really writing, I have it. And it doesn't ever change for the main character once I begin. Hah! Is it possible to write a book and not know the character's name? I know someone who has done that, but I am not thinking it helped anything...

Robin L said...

If kindredness isn't a word, it should be! And I love how you describe the name coming to you. My names tend to come to me by combing through hundreds of them, writing up a short list of possibilities, then living with them for a few days to see which one coalesces around the character.

I am able to change the last name easier than the first, for some reason.