Saturday, April 30, 2011

What's In A Name?

I just finished making some pancakes for the family. Please, no applause... It was just the Bisquick Shake 'n Pour. It's fun and easy and I get some "Great Dad" points from the whole family. Like Scrooge McDuck was known to say, "Work smarter not harder!"
While I was adjusting the heat and listening to the coffee burble and brew, I was mentally reviewing about my current WIP. I was thinking of how the next scene would play out and I realized I was referring to my protagonist by the wrong name. It was one of those moments that I feel change the course of a story. 


With the new name I was open to new behaviors and decisions this young boy might make. His old name sounded like a true victim name in my mind. The name was "Franky". I know a couple Franks that were once referred to as Franky and one lade known as Frankie and none of them are victims. Regardless of what I know in my concrete reality, Franky is the name of victims in the world I am visiting in the story.


The problem I had was that very soon this character was going to have to take some action that required him not to be a victim. I was stuck because I kept trying to force this character into a certain mold and he didn't fit. And the Muse came to visit this morning and with one slight modification, showed me how to resolve the situation. It was just changing the name.
The young boy has gone from being "Franky" to being "Dilly". Franky is short for Francis and Dilly is short for Dillon. It is a very small thing but it has helped the crooked path to become slightly more navigable.


So is a name really that important? I think it is. As I indicated earlier, I don't think a given name will guarantee specific attributes or abilities in the real world (OK sometimes it does but there's exceptions) but in our mind a name certainly conjures very specific images. They will not be the same for every person but they will, in general, bring similar visions when placed into a context.


Here is a couple examples of name in context:
Marion - What do you think of?
I immediately think of a town near where I grew up.
Now try this Marion in football. Most people are going to think of Marion Barber, a strong confident athlete.
Marion and Richie. Inevitable to think of the Happy Days TV series (Unless you aren't old enough!) and the matronly character.
And one last example -  Marion from Inception. You think of the attractive French actress.


Now think of this scene - Marion walked down the sidewalk looking at the new blooms drifting through the light breeze.(what do you see?)(and change up) The only sound was the aluminum bat he dragged behind him. The zombie blood from the last clash was brown and crusted to the rubber grip where his big ands flexed.


I am not saying this is a good scene or a bad scene or even a well written one. What I am saying is that what you see in your mind's eye changes quickly depending on the setting in which the character finds themselves. The name works because of the context. Depending on what you want to do with this world it may be the perfect name. But I would probably have started the scene with a name other than Marion and perhaps changed it later one if it was needed. Regardless, it works above and I would probably use the name to catch people by surprise when they met the large man.


So how do you name your character?
I typically use the first name that comes to mind and I rarely change them but have once in a while.
I have a friend who loves the idea of writing but get stuck first on the right name for the characters. After he frets about their names for days, he then does extensive character sketches and histories. There is nothing wrong with either of these except that he then has exhausted himself and it never goes beyond that stage.
Don't bog yourself down with the names... Just start writing. You can go back and change the names later.


My method is very elementary. Some of you may think that I am crazy for saying it out loud like that but writing is about honesty. So let's tell the truth and just say that my method is about as easy as it gets. There are various opinions on the subject. Below are a couple links so you can have a better range of views.


Naming Your Characters
20 Tips For Naming Your Character from WikiHow
Jason M Tucker's view on character names and some generator links.
Namestorming by Leah Tribolo

I hope this helps at least a few of you and I hope you take time to enjoy your weekend.

Until next time... WRITE!

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