In the last couple of blog posts, we talked about character development. It was established that in order to create valid, believable, fully-fleshed-out characters for your novel, as a novelist you must be fascinated with people. We can now also add that novelists are quite fascinated with names.
I’m active in working with the youth group in my church. I love asking our teens about their names. The amazing diversity of names, and what each one thinks of his or her own name can be a story all in itself.
Hated My Name
Personally, I hated my name all through my growing up years. I was second-born, and yet I was saddled with the name of my biological father who wasn’t the most responsible father to bear children. As you might have guessed, his name was Norman. Sheesh. Why me? I wasn’t even the oldest!
He fled the scene when I was about three and I never saw him again – ever. All he left behind was his bad reputation and his name that I inherited and hated.
Many years later, I came to grips with the name (still insisting on being called NormaJean – as though it’s one word) when I discovered:
Norma means pattern or model; Jean means gift of God .
Well now… I could live with that.
When you set about to name your characters, keep these things in mind. Is there a story behind your character’s name? Or nickname? (You may want to refer to my blog about backstory. Never forget that your characters have a history!)
Love the Process
I love the character-naming process. To me, it’s one of those exhilarating steps in the novel-writing process. I rummage through baby-naming books, phone books, high school and college year books (love year books!), and of course now much of my name-research is done online. I have one thick baby-naming book that’s been on my reference shelf for decades! I love to simply browse the pages.
It’s crucial that you have at least formulated your character’s personality types and traits before the name search. After all, the name must fit the personality.
In Margaret Mitchell’s early drafts of Gone with the Wind, the main character was dubbed Pansy. I wish this amazing author were right here today, so I could ask her why at the last minute Pansy became Scarlett. Such a difference! Not only in meaning, but even the mere sound of the word Scarlett is much more powerful than Pansy. (Additionally, one can’t help but think of The Scarlett Letter by Hawthorne.)
From Another Era
In one of my earliest young adult novels I named my main character Marsha. I’ll never forget when my kind editor wrote me and said I should consider changing the name.
“Marsha,” she remarked, “sounds so dated. From another era.”
Sadly, by that time (back when it took me a couple years to write a novel – later to be shortened to about a month), Marsha and I had become quite attached. I couldn’t imagine changing her name. Then I had an aha moment.
I wrote back to Julie, my editor, and suggested that my horse-loving character still be Marsha, but change the spelling to Marcia. She graciously agreed, and the Marcia Stallings series was born.
Marcia went on to survive a total of three books. (It takes another big crying towel to explain why the series stopped at three books. Space simply does not allow!)
In another of my early teen novels published by Weekly Reader Publishing, the main character’s father is a symphony conductor and her mother is a professional cellist. I named the main character (who plays the violin) Arianna – and in the story a big to-do is made about the fact it is pronounced Ahr-ianna not Air-ianna.
Given her background, her name couldn’t have been one of the common names of the day. Arianna was different – she loved classical music when all of her friends were wired up to heavy metal.
What makes your character tick? What personality traits and characteristics prevail? This will be of immense help when you begin your own name search.
In my next post, we’ll talk more about the fun – and the challenges – of the character-naming process in Part II.
I trust the teaching and instruction given in this blog post was helpful in your goal to be a novelist. For more in-depth writer’s workshops, check out the wide variety offered at the Be A Novelist Website.
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