Monday, September 8, 2014

What's in a name?

Good evening, gentle readers.  Pardon the lateness of this blog entry, but I've had a busy day.
I have been thinking of names.
Names? You ask. 
Yes. Names.
Specifically, the name of a new character.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the most critical decisions that you can make as a writer.  Particularly if you are writing genre fiction.
Names have power.
They define things.
They define us.
Think about it.  How could a character with a name like 'Snidely Whiplash' be anything other than a villain? 
Margaret and Gertrude are dated names, seldom used and tend to bring to mind images of plain, heavy girls with thick ankles wearing drab, ill-fitted dresses. 
You probably wouldn't find the ingenue of the latest paranormal romance named Gertrude. Would you?
No.  They're more likely to be named something vaguely exotic or unusual. Annabelle, perhaps, or Sylvia.
I think male characters are easier to name.  John and Mark bring to mind average looking guys and there's enough generational saturation of the names so that they aren't period specific. Neither are they associated with any particular trade.  At least, not in my mind.
There's a lot that goes into picking a name, as any parent can tell you.  You don't just slap a label on your child and be done with it.  If that was the case we'd let the hospitals do it.  They'd probably have a big book of names in the maternity wards and tick off gender-appropriate names as they were used.
No. Parents usually wind up giving their children names that they hope they'll grow into.
In that respect, at least, character-naming is easier.  My own characters tend to spring, fully formed, out of thin air. I know what they're about. Nine times out of ten, I know what they're going to be called. They practically name themselves.
But there's always the problem child. Always the character that's so mercurial, so alive in your head, that pinning them down with a name is a problem. 
So, you make lists. You consult baby name sites. Books of famous historical figures.  Maybe a list of gemstones or poisonous flowers.
All to find the perfect name for this one character.
And, at the end of the day, if you still haven't found the perfect name?
What do you do?
You wind up writing a blog entry about it, and hoping that tomorrow you have more luck.

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