Thursday, April 19, 2012
Sherry, Seline, or Shaniqua…What Is In a Name?
So, you’ve decided to write a story. Great. You know your plot, you know how the story starts and how it ends. You even have a cast of characters picked out.
But what about names? Naming a character is like naming a newborn baby, a lot of thought must be put into the name. Whatever name chosen will be stuck with them forever more. Once the story is published, there will be no turning back.
There are millions of names to chose from, or make up. Whatever you decide, your character’s name tells the reader a lot about them before the first sentence is read.
Names can tell your character’s ethnic origin…or confuse them. Are they African-American, Caucasian, Hispanic, or Asian? Some names cross over between ethnic backgrounds, though the spelling may be different.
Example: Christopher (English/Biblical) or Kristoffer? (Scandinavian)
A name can also show what generation your character is from without mentioning their age.
Example: Edna is an older name, while Jada is from a younger generation.
A great example of this is Twilight. Though the story has a modern day setting; some of the characters are younger than 18, while others are over 100-years old. Their names reflect that. The Vampires, who ranged from 100-years old, and older, had names from that time period: Edward, Carlyle, Rosalie, Emmet, and Jasper. Then of course there were Bella (Isabella), and Jacob who were obviously much younger. See the difference?
Now, back to your story. The name given to your character can be used to delve into their back story. What if they were born in say, 1994, yet their parents decided to give them a name from a previous generation for the sake of tradition? If your story is set in 2012 and the character is an 18-year-old female named for her grandmother, Rowena, how would she feel about that? Would she love and cherish that name because she was close to her grandmother, or would she loath it because of being teased as a kid? Explaining how the character feels about their name could be a key reason as to what motivates them in the decisions they make.
Names can also relate to a character’s personality traits. For example, I have a son named Xavier. It has been my experience that nearly every Xavier I come across is just as hyperactive, hardheaded, and lovable. I couldn't imagine him being name William, or Justin, the name just wouldn't fit. But, that’s just me!
A name can also be the bases for character description. In one of my stories, the character, Yasmine (which is a different form of spelling of the jasmine flower) wears perfume all the time. It’s one of the things that grabs her boyfriends attention when they first meet. She also keeps her home, office, and car smelling nice. She’s living up to the meaning of her name, which is: a fragrant flower.
Don’t forget about nicknames! The nickname given to your character by family, friends, and even enemies can relay to the reader exactly how someone views them. Is it short and sweet, rolling off the tongue with a lot of love? Or is it brash, harsh, and said with disdain?
Character names can also be the bases for a plot. Does the character love or hate the name they were given? Is it something they are proud of, or do they spend their life (or time during the story) running away from what it stands for?
Whatever you decide, remember, DO NOT use names for supportive characters that are similar to the key characters (Matt and Mathew, Jake and John). It's best to choose names that begin with a different letter of the alphabet to avoid confusing readers. Of course, if similarity in names is a part of your storyline (twins, or the names lead to a case of mistaken identity), by all means, do so. Just be sure the reason why those names were chosen is pointed out so the reader will be prepared to notice the difference in characters.
Having problems finding a name off the top of your head? The simple remedy is to go on Google and search for the various name websites. Research anything from name origins, meanings, and ethnic backgrounds. Here’s a great one to check out: The Meaning of Names.