Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Name Game

Name (n) – A word that you use to identify a person, place or thing.
The names you give to your characters will stick with them right up until the story is finished. By that logic it should be one of the most important things to think about before writing your story. The main characters name will be eternally connected to your piece of fiction and if chosen quickly and without reason, you may well regret picking it.
So, what should you think about when choosing a name?
1. Ease of pronunciation:
Your story is set in a foreign country and you obviously want to make the names as authentic as possible. A reader would probably not be able to read ‘Yudhisthir’ without stopping to work out the pronunciation. If you want an Indian name, perhaps going with something like ‘Gafur’ would be better. My reasoning behind those two names will become clear in my next point, but here they serve the purpose of showing how picking an easy name is better.
2. Etymology of the name:
This is what the name means. Both examples in my above point have some meaning of war behind them. The former name means ‘Firm in Battle’ and the latter name means ‘Invincible’. These names would be perfect for a Hindu warrior. The reader may not look up your name, but for those eager eyed readers it is nice to give them something to find.
3. Length of name:
This is similar to the first point, but more directed to the writer than the reader. Every time your character’s name is used, you have to type it. Which would you rather type: ‘Yashodhan’, or ‘Yash’? They both mean ‘Fame’ but one is nine letters and the other is four.
4. Purpose of Character
This links in nicely to point two and in some ways could’ve come before that point. Your character may be a fun, easy-going, party loving woman. In this case a name like ‘Prudence’ or ‘Camilla’. I’m not saying people with these names can’t have the above traits, but your reader will have stereotypes for those kinds of names. Similarly if you are trying to portray a really ugly character, perhaps names like ‘Brad’, ‘Hank’ and ‘Mr. Depp’ would be the wrong way to go simply because women supposedly find certain famous people with those names good-looking.
Of course, these rules are not set in stone. Breaking convention is fantastic to shock the reader or to add comic effect. For example (here we go!) in The Magician’s Tattoo I gave the eccentric magician a really normal name, Brian. I did so because I thought it would be funny to have this magician who is completely stark-raving-mad have such a normal, human, name. I also picked it because it is one of Dumbledore’s middle names.
But, what about the concept of not naming your character? Is that allowed? Would the reader feel cheated? The answers are yes, yes and no. Not giving the main character a name works really well in first person horror/dark stories. I did it in Positive Thoughts. By not naming the character, every time the reader reads ‘I’ the only person it could mean is them. They become part of the story which exponentially increases tension and suspense.
If you would like to have a look at some ‘normal’, ‘generic’ names, their meanings and also how to create normal names, visit my experiment- The Normal Name Experiment
Hope this helps,


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