What’s in a name?

January 15, 2010 at 12:37 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Imagine this.  You are at the racetrack and two horses come out.  Both look exactly the same.  Same size same gait same everything.  For the sake of argument lets say that they are genetically modified clones of each other.  The announcer comes up and labels the first as Bandit’s creed and the second as Slow and Steady.  This announcer tells you nothing else but his name but you’re already building conclusions.  You will be one of two camps.  You will either go for Bandit’s creed assuming that he is the fastest thing since overnight express mail or you will remember the old story of the tortoise and the hare and give Slow and Steady a chance.  Without knowing anything about them you have formed a judgement on them.  Now in reality horse racing is far more sophisticated but none the less a great deal of betting revolves around the name.

This is an asset that can be used to give your reader an immediate gut feeling about the character.  Think about star wars.  Say Jabba the hut and my mind thinks large, bubbly, and gross.  Hear the name Han Solo and I think about a guy who is an individual who always follows his own way (at least initially).

You could use this phenomenon to your advantage in the opposite way.  You could reverse it you it as a way to trick the reader.  Remember in Buffy when we were introduced to a vampire called Angel?  The reader wonders is this guy a good guy or a bad guy and you immediately have them hooked.

But names alsp clue the reader into so much more, ethnicity age, date of birth, or surprise the readers when they learn their actual data.  It’s all about hooking people and getting them to think that a character will behave a certain way before ripping up their preconceptions and keeping them riveted the whole way through.

Now far be it for me to tell you that a name will be the be all or end all for a book.  But next time you go through your manuscript looking at your characters names ask yourself are you using the names pre-conceptions to its greatest advantage.

So Twfities and loyal readers… How do you choose names for your characters??




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  1. I used to pick names randomly until I heard about picking names based on their meanings (thank you, J.K. Rowling..) and I thought that was amazing. So that’s one way I choose *possibilities* but in the end it’s always something I like the ring of. If I don’t like the name and I have to write 60,000 words using it… not good.

  2. Great post Alyce :D Mine tend to be quite random, although occassionally I pick names with meanings (JK Rowling’s influence too, I think!) I have to like the ring of it, and often choose names because I can shorten them in different ways – I think sometimes nicknames can give some insight into how well one character knows another.

    =] Becky.

  3. I love the way writers can play around with names. Like in Hush Hush, the hot bad guy was called Patch. What–Patch?! Isn’t that what the circus clown is called? After reading Hush Hush I just can’t imagine Patch as a clown. No way, dude!

  4. Sometimes, I draw a name from thin air without knowing much about it except that it seems to work for the period and area of my piece. Other times, I put of a lot of thought into the name, especially in area of origin and meaning. In my WIP, the social rank of characters is indicated by their name, so I had to be very careful what names I tossed around.

  5. I usually go through lists of names with a vague idea about what I want the name to sound like, and just keep looking until I find one that has the right ring to it.
    My current WIP is probably a naming diaster. XD It’s fantasy-based, so for a while I was cackling and mashing random sounds together to make up my own names. Then halfway through the book I started having minor characters pop up with very normal, very English-sounding names. Oops.

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