Writer of Soul-Searching Snark

Linda Joyce is a fellow romance author and dear friend. I can’t tell you how many “OMG, Linda, HELP!” e-mails she’s responded to in the middle of the night. She’s the master of synopses. She’s the voice of reason to my chaotic, frenzied approach to well…everything.

Here are her thoughts on names. Enjoy:

What’s in a Name?
by Linda Joyce

Are names helpful, harmful or lethal? Recently, I read an article by Jessica Dickler on CNNMoney.com about people who believe their names are holding them back from finding jobs. An every day guy with the name of a famous, but dead musician. A woman with a name too hard to pronounce. A common name with a weird spelling.

Based upon names, do we harbor preconceived ideas that influence our interactions with others? Think about it for a minute. Did you ever have a best friend named Aloysius? Or Almira? I’m a wagering woman, and I’ll bet not. What do you expect Millard to look and act like? Or Rutherford, or Ulysses? Are they the geeks and dorks from school? Mama’s boys? Do their names sound at all important? Or possibly, let’s say, United States presidential?

What about names for girls like Louise, or Beatrice, or Charlotte? Old fashioned sounding, yes? Not popular now at all? These names represent current European Princesses.

Right or wrong, we do harbor notions, most of them lodged in our subconscious, about names. We even have emotional responses to them as well. This indicates names probably influence how we interact with people.

Another example, let’s look at Hannibal. A warm feeling washes over me when I recall my camping outing to Hannibal, Missouri, home to Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Then, there’s Hannibal, son of Hamilcar Barca. I respect a man considered to be one of the greatest Carthaginian commanders in all history. But, what about Hannibal joined with Lecter? That name produces a completely different response.

From my unscientific experiment, names influence us. Does that hold true for characters? For most fiction writers, characters live in their heads and whisper incessantly until a writer brings the character to life on pages. Characters named Cody, Colt, Cheyenne, and Savannah summon immediate images. Cody might be the president of the cattlemen’s associations, but probably not the president of a foreign country. Cheyenne may be a top fashion-runway model, but probably not your dad’s cardiologist. As readers, which all writers are, names help us make sense of a character. Names give credibility to a character’s personality and help us, the reader, connect with them.

And then, there are those times where names cause dissonance, like Hannibal Lector or Romeo Montague. Shakespeare’s Juliet spoke the quintessential lover’s words regarding a name:

‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;

Next time you pick up a book, look at a character’s names. Roll it over your tongue, let it slip off your lips, then rattle around in your brain. Conjure up an image, then read the book cover to cover, and let us know how the name fit…or didn’t, the character. Happy reading!

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Comments on: "Welcome Guest Blogger, Linda Joyce!!" (17)

  1. I agree with the importance of names, and it’s something I always struggle with when first naming my characters. Even now, with Broken Dolls seeking publication, I wonder how I’ll handle the possibility of a publisher wanting to change one of my characters’ names, as they have become the very definition of my characters. Thanks for sharing, Claire and Linda!

    • Jan, I can’t imagine Sachi, Nobu or Terrance being called anything but those names. My goodness, Jubie? She has to stay Jubie! Fingers crossed no names will be changed. 🙂

  2. Linda was one of the first people who suggested I change my main characters name from Carmine Carducci. Personally, I still love the name, but NO ONE else did. He’s now called Joe Carducci–boring, but have you ever met a Joe you didn’t like? Thanks, Linda!!

  3. mgmillerbooks said:

    Names. Can be such a struggle sometimes to come up with just the right ones. I really like this, speaks to the writer in me. Heh, but I’m glad you changed “Carmine” to “Joe”. Carmine reminds me of the guy on Laverne & Shirley.

  4. “Names give credibility to a character’s personality . . .” I disagree. I think the personality gives character to the name. After all, where did we get the concept in the first place? Preconceived ideas are born of experiences – even if we don’t consciously think of them. I think that if the story is good enough and the character touches us, we will reassociate the name. I have to admit, though, that I know my characters before I name them, and when I’m looking though my book of baby names, some simply don’t sound right.

    • Very interesting point, Linda. I wait until I discover a pet’s personality before I name it, so I see what you’re saying. A friend of mine named her baby as soon as she had the ultrasound and found out she was having a boy. Called him “Parker” during the entire pregnancy. When he was born, one look and she said, “He’s not a Parker.” She ended up naming him Wilson.

      I also see Linda Joyce’s point. I recently read a story set in the 1880s and the main character’s name was Sage. The entire time I was reading, I kept thinking no one would have used that name in 1880.

      Both valid points to consider when naming characters.

  5. Most of my characters come to me with names intact. No idea why that is. On the other hand, the main characters in ‘Bigfoot Blues’ are Sam (Samantha), Bubba, Lefty, Hawk. and Rufus the dog. The book takes place in the Pacific Northwest. When I raised my boys there I do not recall a single one of their friends who did not go by a nickname of one sort or another. However, a new writer the other week at my critique group, dropped into five pages of a middle-of-the-forest scene from this book, told me “I got so confused! All your character’s have dog’s names.”
    Well, of course, that’s true. More importantly, it’s funny.
    And on that note, my boys did have a friend known as Lefty. When I questioned this nickname since the kid was right handed, my middle son informed me the young man’s real nickname was Left Nut. The kids just cleaned the name up in front of parents.

    • Pam, you crack me up. I don’t even want to know what the kid did to get the nickname “Left Nut.” My kin all goes by nicknames too. The oddest? My uncle, Oklahoma Lee was called “Jack.” They really don’t have to make sense. It’s the South. My characters come to me fully named as well. I’ve only had to change 1 so far.

  6. Pam Clemens said:

    What a great article!

  7. Madison Woods said:

    I find it easy enough to come up with first names, but so far only one of my characters in one of my stories has a last name.

    Sometimes I wonder, though, in real life if people grow into their names? My son asked what his name meant when he was young and I told him it meant ‘stronghold’ like a fort. His name is Garrison, and so far he’s doing a good job of holding up his name, lol. If we are told our name meanings when we are young, maybe we do subconsciously want to grow into them, or if we’re rebels we want to fight them.

    I don’t know, but that’s an interesting topic.

    • Madison, I’d never considered kids growing into their names. I think I failed. My given name means “noble” and my middle name means “grace” If only my parents had told me that when I was 4, I might not have been kicked out of charm school. 🙂

  8. I’m a firm believer that the name of our characters is THE most important thing in the novel. I have a the first chapter of a novel that someday I will write. I have the woman’s name but struggled with the man’s. Of course he is the typcial cowboy and needs a strong name. His first name came to me right away, Nathan. But the last name took forever. Then one day, it popped into my head, McCord. Nathan McCord. Now that’s a strong name. I told a friend of mine that there was just too much junk floating around in the universe that it took a long time for his last name to get to me. LOL Names are most important. Dixie Dandelion says it all.

  9. Being a writer of Ancient Rome, I get lots of flack from names. Why? Because father’s name goes down to the sons as is. Thus I believe gave birth to I,II,II etc. And girls were no better A daughter was named after her father (Julius/Julia) and All daughters were so but had nicknames. Now handle that in a story where father and son go by the same name. Oh and One doesn’t use the first name except unless you are family. But that is the challenge along with the ‘ius or ‘us endings and you can’t use Alex in the story…one must go with Alexius Alexus. Glad I love ’em so. And that’s just Rome. TheOrient has to have its name game too. I still like the return of the old American names coming back like Pearl, and Olive. ButIhave issues naming a baby Granville as my grand dad was. But I honor it. Yes, Linda it’s a name game.

    • Thanks for you comment. You make an excellent point, Judy. i always run into that problem when I’m reading Russian books. Who the heck are they referring to now? So confusing. I like the southern tradition of naming children Augustus Xavier and calling him JuJu. It’s a lot easier to figure out who the characters are at least.

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