Monday, March 28, 2011
What's in a Name
Happy Monday all. I have been wondering what to post about today... honestly I have been sitting here thinking for far too long. So, here comes a post that has been rumbling in the back of my mind.
Raise your hand if you think naming your characters is hard hard hard to do. *own hand shoots into air* Honestly, there have been times that I sit and spend my entire writing time for that day trying to settle on one single name. Its one thing for a MC, its bad when its just for a minor character... why do I need the perfect name? Isn't it just a name?
A problem with names is that they truly can make the person, or break it. Heck, my name is Jenni. When I have asked people what they think of when they hear that name, it tends to be a ditzy cheerleader or blonde Woo-girl. Both of which, I am not. One leading reason why I chose to spell my name with an "i" other than the traditional "y" or "ie" was... to be me. To this day I have only met I think one other Jenni who spells it the same as I do. With Jennifer being such a common name, I needed my individuality. And, I needed to prove that I am not the stereotype of what my name is.
So I am a writer. And actress. A photographer. I grew up playing sports, am highly competitive, and nine times out of ten prefer to hang around boys over girls. And, I am brunette... though I do like to dye my hair red. So, if I came across a Jenni in a book... what would I assume she is? Sadly, even I would lean to the stereotype. Its just what we all do.
When it comes time to naming my characters, it means something. I need to feel the name. I can't just randomly pick a name, say "Yup, that works" and dive into writing. In one of my WIPS I believe I have changed the MC's name at least three times.
It may not be that big of a "thing." Maybe I am just overly picky. But names do mean something. What's in a name... everything! If I read about a Mildred, sadly, I picture an older woman who likes prunes. If its a Bud, I see a southern hick with ripped off sleeves and a beer belly. I know. Sometimes that character has nothing to do with that stereotype. But, naming your character something will shape it in a way you may not have planned. You have to be careful.
So, what to do? How do we choose the perfect name?
For me, I tend to look into the meanings of the names. Babynames.com is awesome (along with bundles of other sites out there just like it) Type in the meaning you are wanting. A trait you want your character to have... or maybe not have, to add spice. Something that means something to the plot of your story... then peruse. It is amazing how much more perfect the name can be, once you know the meaning.
One of my beta readers recently asked me what the purpose being Millie's name is. For those of you who don't know, her full name is Millicent. My reasoning? I heard the name Millie... and liked it. It struck a chord with me and felt "right" for this MC. Then, as I was writing, I found I needed a full name for her. And in came Millicent. I needed a name that no normal person really does name their child... an uncommon name with a strange rep. Millicent... perfect. It wasn't until after I chose it that I looked up the meaning of the name: Mild Strength. I sat back, thought about it... and realized that it really was the perfect name for this MC. And so... she was born.
Meanings mean something to me. What it behind a name holds so much of the character. I honestly do spend too much time coining the perfect name, but in the end, I feel it is worth it. As for last names...that is a different story. I tend to steal those from friends. Yoink!
So, what about you? Do you just pick a name out of the air and form the character around it? Make the character, and reader, accept it? Or do you create the character, then find the perfect name to suit that persona?