Monday, January 4, 2016

What's In A Name?



A person's name can express far more than simple delight with how it rolls off your tongue or honoring a relative. Parents get overly creative with cutesy spellings that leave girls with little or no hope of ever finding a barrette or necklace with their name. Even worse, it can open a child up to bullying or teasing because of an unfortunate word association.

In certain cultures an individual's last name identifies their family's occupation. I happened upon the name of Zimmerman for my family in The Moses Conspiracy during a search for German surnames. This one jumped out when I discovered it meant, "carpenter," which was the primary skill of the father.

My character name choices are not always that deliberate. As Kendra from Out of The Mist formed in my mind, her name came along with it. Feisty and with a determination to succeed, education was at the top of her list. She valued knowledge above everything else.

Sitting at my desk one day, the name Justine popped into my head, and I jotted it on a yellow sticky note. It stayed there for over a year before she introduced herself in my latest manuscript. Perhaps the memory of a young choir member, who visited in our home while I was growing up, influenced her development.

One of my favorite names, David, is also used in my books. It means, "beloved." It holds a special place in my heart because my late husband was a David. When you see that name crop up in my work, you know this character is going to be a good guy.

Another way I name characters is by looking at baby name websites. I also check out lists of names that were popular during certain years. On a research trip, I drove along country roads and looked at names plastered on mailboxes. My ear is always attuned to a name that might work in a manuscript.

The meaning of a name can give an indication of personality traits or add to the mystique of your storyline. Give the subject serious thought when starting a manuscript.

Writers:  How do you name your characters?

Readers:  Does an unusual name in a story bother you or intrigue you? Why or why not?

Photo Credit:  Deon Staffelbach

1 comment:

Tony Hilling said...

I tend to go with a theme, Susan. So if my fantasy has as its model a Classical Greek or Roman world, my names will probably reflect that with some sort of minor change that will keep it creative. But honestly, I also go with the "pin on the map" kind of method, and just put down the first crazy name that comes into my head.