Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What's In a Name?

Names.  Who is that character?  You know...the tall one with the big nose and says things that make you laugh out loud.  What's his name?  Okay; is that the right name?  Names.  They'll get you every time.

I name my characters first, then I flesh them out.  If the name is wrong, nothing else falls into place.  If the name is right, I can hear his/her voice.  The wrong name is like putting a rubber nose on the Mona Lisa.  Amusing, yes; but ultimately not so good an idea.

I admit that I am somewhat sensitive about names - having spent a lifetime (and I'm really not exaggerating) explaining to people how to pronounce my own.  There was an email that has made several rounds demonstrating that most people only read the beginning and end of a word and that the middle could be gobbledegook.  This explains why I have answered to "Elizabeth" all my life.  Nothing wrong with the name, it's just not mine.  Mine is the Scottish version (which is interesting when you're not Scottish).  I digress...

When do you name your characters?  Are their names important or is this another thing that I must add to my already lengthy list of 'Things That I Must Learn Not to Obsess Over"?


  1. Interesting take on this. I never gave it much thought from this perspective.

    Uh, I name my characters as they come along. I need a character, I gen one up, complete with name. As you may know, I write by the seat of my pants, rather than an outline. So, aside from a few main characters, I’ve no idea who is gonna be in the book, or what their role will be. I even rename characters after the book is finished to honor a friend or relative, or to get vengeance on someone who’s wronged me. HA!

    So, that’s how I do it. Maybe I need more structure. For my next book, I’m gonna try that to see how it works. Will keep you posted!

    Best Regards, Galen
    Imagineering Fiction Blog

    P.S. THis is a great line: "The wrong name is like putting a rubber nose on the Mona Lisa. Amusing, yes; but ultimately not so good an idea." Very clever.

  2. Character names are important to me. I'll spend a long time deciding on the name. Most often, the name sticks. Sometimes I change it but not without much angst. Incidentally, I like Elspeth. It sounds medieval.

    Straight From Hel

  3. Thank you both for commenting! Helen, glad you like my name but it's a burden to live with. Galen, you're so good for my ego that I feel I should be baking you a cake!

  4. Character names are important to me, too, but I don't have a set way to come up with them. Sometimes a character comes to me, complete with proper name. Sometimes I create a character and have to search and, yes, obsess to come up with the right name. Other times, I have a name and I create a character to go with it. So, I guess I've been no help whatsoever. :0)

  5. Names are a VERY big deal to me, and I have a similar experience as you regarding my name (which, by the way, is a derivative of Elizabeth). As a result, I especially love naming a character something that can turn into a comedic moment.

    Most of the time I come up with the name first, and the character grows into the name. But the name almost always has some special meaning, usually a personal one. I've been known to use names from books or movies that have inspired me (for example, there's a very minor character in Faking It named Jesse Bartlet -- I think I gave his name 2 "t"s, though) that was an homage to Aaron Sorkin and *The West Wing*. So was the name Sam, I confess. I was watching so much TWW and there was Sam Seaborn, all handsome and smiling, and I thought, why not... And while I even go as far as to describe my Sam as "very Rob Lowe" in the novel, he's far from Sam Seaborn in character.

    Names are a big deal for sure.


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