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Thursday, January 3, 2013

What's in a Name?

(Reminder: if you want to be eligible for the grand prizes in the New Year's Blog Hop, you need to leave a comment with your email address on this post!)

I've always been a bit of a name nerd. When I was a child, I did things like keep notebooks of my favorite names and attempt to bestow a name upon every single guppy in my father's large fish tank. These days, I get super-excited when the SSA list of the 1000 most popular baby names from the previous year comes out. Names are fun.

Names can also drive writers crazy. There's no denying that certain names have stereotypes and connotations. Like it or not, when most people hear/see the names Candi or Misti or other -i names, a rocket scientist is probably not the first image to come to mind. (Especially if the "i" is dotted with a little heart.) When I hear names like Simon and Oliver, my first impression is not one of a black leather jacket-wearing tattooed motorcycle enthusiast. And so on. 

(Obviously, this is all suggestive, and mileage varies.)

For certain genres, I think it's important to be aware of trends. If I read a historical romance novel where the heroine is named Madison, I'm probably going to roll my eyes. The Aidan/Aiden/Ayden/Braden/Jaden/Hayden/-aden craze is going strong for little boys (and even some girls *twitch*), but my Eyebrow of Questioning might go up if I see one of those names on a 30-something-year-old man in a contemporary story. 

All that's to say that character names can be rather important. A character's name can immediately give the reader an idea of what said character's personality is like; writers can either work with those tropes or defy them. (My hat goes off to those who will ironically write about a superhero named Bob Smith, or a hot young thang named Mildred who goes tearing up the nightclubs.) Sometimes the perfect name comes to me right away. Other times I struggle with finding a name that accurately captures a character I have in mind. Every now and then I say "screw it" and just go with the first thing that pops into my head. (This is why a very minor character near the end of Disintegration has the same name as my good friend's Phantasy Star Online character. What can I say, I'm shameless.)

In Disintegration, there are three significant women in the main character's life, and I wanted their names to highlight the differences. His wife Meyta (and daughter Lilia) are supposed to represent compassion, femininity, and innocence, hence the definitively feminine -a names. In contrast, Ro (who was originally named Rose when I was first thinking about this book, but I didn't know if I wanted to go with the whole "desert rose" thing) is more of an outspoken tomboy who has a wild and carefree streak, so she gets a (nick)name that is not as substantial and definitely less frilly. For Tanith, one of the main antagonists, I wanted a strong name that, again, wasn't as overtly feminine as the others. Some of the contenders for that character were Charis, Tamsyn, and Iris. 

Some writers would probably argue that overthinking names is a waste of time, and I'm not going to say they're wrong. If you write a well-developed, interesting character, I guess it shouldn't really matter if he's Bob Smith or Bartholomew Aloysius Chillingsworth III. However, I bet those two names gave you much different impressions, right?

(I still hate naming fictional places, by the way.) 

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