I have always enjoyed naming things. Take my cars. My long ago Mustang was…what else? Sally. Later came Flora Dora Taurus after a doll I once loved. Recently I’ve driven Lola Corolla, inspired by the old Barry Manilow song but with a twist: “Lola, Lola Corolla, the fastest car out on the road-ah!” Currently I drive Carlotta Camry, because compared to Lola she’s a whole-lotta car.
For me naming my babies was the best part of being pregnant. Their dad and I poured over baby name books and history books. We had a complicated system for both first and middle names–the details now lost to history–and decided he could choose the boys’ first names and I’d picked the girls’ yet we each had the power of veto. I nixed his choices of Mayo and Truckee and he slammed my Persia and Pilgrim (What? It was the 1970s).
Now I find great joy in naming my fictional characters, but it also takes serious thought. Names influence both the character and the reader. Compare two men, one named Rocky and the other Edgar. What differences, if any, do their names connote? Will the reader picture Rocky as a doctor or a mechanic? Would Edgar be a minister or a drug lord? Names have meanings and sounds, and both affect others, sometimes in very subtle ways.
How do other authors choose names for their characters? In my research I found a plethora of websites on this topic as well as tons of baby name books. For my own characters I either wake up knowing a name is THE one or I study the same book I had when choosing my kids’ names. Not only does it list even obscure names but also gives each name’s meaning, something I need to help me build my characters’ personalities.
Here are some general tips I gleaned from Googling the topic:
- Avoid overused names, Jim, Dan, Mary, etc. Or use them for incidental characters so they won’t try to steal your protagonist’s thunder.
- Beware of celebrity names like Oprah, Whitney, Atticus, O.J. These immediately put the reader in mind of the celebrity.
- Consider the era and the character’s age. Check the Social Security Name Popularity List for the year of your character’s birth to make sure your name was in use at that time.
- Fantasy character names need to be pronounceable so readers can slip into the world you’ve created. Think Katniss or Bilbo, unusual yet unique. I like the idea of creating a new name by combining two traditional names, for example, Mary + Emily could become the name, Maryem, which suggests something ethereal, doesn’t it?
- Use the news creatively. Author Kristin Britain of the GREEN RIDER series was impressed by figure skater Nancy Kerrigan and so called her character Karigan G’ladheon. How cool is that?
I’ll end with this quote that is a lovely way to sum up the power of names.
“There was my name up in lights. I said, ‘God, somebody’s made a mistake. But there it was, in lights. And I sat there and said, ‘Remember, you’re not a star.’ Yet there it was up in lights.”
By Linda Boyden
How do your characters’ names come to you? What is your best tip?
WHY WRITE BOOK REVIEWS AS A CONSUMER?
You know the drill. You read a good book, maybe tell a friend about it, tweet about it, put it up on facebook or may even like the book’s Facebook Page. You are finished and move on to the next book. Wait! Let’s talk specifically about books that do not take our kids to weird places in their heads, stories that contribute to positive mental development particularly for kids from 12-18. What would it by like if we made good books popular using today’s unrestrained instant feedback mechanisms for the good of all our kids, our culture? What if you used that powerful voice we all now have to say Yes or No to writer’s who do not have a grip on what words can do to impressionable kids when read in the secret intimacy of the world of imagination excited from the written word? What if …”
Your review of a book whether it is on Amazon.com, the book’s homepage, the publisher’s page, or wherever could be the reason someone chooses to read or not to read a book or to allow a child to read or not to read a book. If you are silent, you have abdicated your own voice. Your voice in the mix is vital if we are to keep our kids’ minds on things to move them into positive, relationship-wise futures.
Think it won’t matter? Think saying nothing is the right thing to do? Think again. Silence assumes assent in many cases. When kids (or parents) see the shiny, cleverly designed book cover and its cleverly wordsmithed title on the shelf, it seems so innocent. When picked up or leafed through online, it is visually appealing and looks readable. Reviews on the book itself extol its wonderfulness. Yes, but …. we can get more feedback than just a few reviews on the book itself today, particularly for Kindle and like versions of the book. Consumer reviews are everywhere if we take the time to google them or #[BookTitle] them.
The truth for where this book will lead a young mind is easier than ever to find; but, one must take the time to do it, sort of a due diligence kind of thing. Do you have the time to save our youth from getting grotesque messages that confuse, distort, and sometimes destroy a path to good, functional relationship skills development?
Keep the best on top and the unseemly on bottom
Meghan Cox Gurdon wrote an article entitled, The Case for Good Taste in Children’s Books. www.hillsdale.edu/news/imprimis.asp. In it she references a previous article with this comment: “…. my article discussed the increasingly dark current that runs through books classified as YA, for Young Adult—books aimed at readers between 12 and 18 years of age—a subset that has, in the four decades since Young Adult became a distinct category in fiction, become increasingly lurid, grotesque, profane, sexual, and ugly.” The balance of her article is worth the read but it will scare you to death about what is being called good reading for kids.
Someone has to call the kettle black, note that the Emperor has no clothes, and acknowledge the elephant is in the room. What our children read stays with them for a lifetime. Quick: name three favorite stories from childhood. See, not hard to do. And if you have been around kids lately, they often reread the really “exciting ones” many times. Parallel case in point with movies. I was in a theater classroom and the task was to choose a musical. The teens’ favorite seemed to be Sweeney Todd. At the time I was unfamiliar with the musical so rented it and watched it. I could not get through it without beginning to skim as I reached the end. I sat back pale and trembling. The movie – and a musical no less – is about cannibalism! Singing about the joys of cannibalism! And with a star like Angela Lansbury to give it “artistic” merit. Again, the real shocker is that these kids chose this as a favorite! At ages 15-18, this was already their favorite. Worse still, in my view, was the high school’s production that year of Little Shop of Horrors, again a musical and this time about a human blood eating plant who requires serial murders to be fed. Oh, yeah… that’s here we need our kids heads. Ergo, serial murderers by Albert Fish and Jeffrey Dahmer who by the way were convicted of the murders but not of the cannibalism which is outside the law and taboo.
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