Another day, another post in our series of NaNoWriMo…alternated. Melissa Groeling has come to visit me today, and she brings one of my favorite topics. Names. But before we let her rant away, let me tell you that Melissa had her YA Traffic Jam released this year, a brilliant novel on bullying in schools. It’s definitely a thoughtful story worth reading.
Thanks a bunch for having me here today, Piper!
Choosing the Right Names for Your Characters
As the ol’ saying goes, “What’s in a name?”
Generally speaking, a name is identity. A name is something to signify a person, a pet, an object. A name is stark, frank and associative. But the simplicity of a name becomes significantly more complex when you’re doing something like, oh say, writing a story. You want a hero’s name that’s going to conjure a smile and a fist-pump in the air. You want a lover’s name that will make the heart race. You want a villain’s name that will send a shivery ripple of fear down the spine. You want a name that not only identifies your character but carves out a space in your reader’s head long after the book is put down.
In my experience with name-searching, I try not to select a name of someone I know. In any story, you’re building a character from the ground up, and using a name of someone you know, at least for me, takes away from the mystery and the fun of getting to know that someone as the story unfolds. I also tend to select a name based on the character’s appearance. I’ll get a basic idea about this person’s general appearance whether it’s male or female, child or adult then think, “Well, what kind of name does he/she look like?”
And if I’m really drawing a blank, that’s when I’ll ask for help. I distinctively remember having a hard time coming up with names for the two sisters in my young adult novel, Traffic Jam. So I asked my parents,
“Hey, can you guys give me some names of two sisters? Ready, set, go!”
Now seeing as how they’re parents and they’ve had quite a bit of experience naming children, the act of selecting names came pretty natural to them and honestly, I was sitting there with a pen and a piece of paper, trying to keep up as they fired their name cannons at me.
And how did I select those names? Or any character names for that matter?
Something always clicks for me. I’ll look at a name and just know. Sounds hokey, right? But I’m telling you, the feeling is just like when an idea of a story pops into your head. It’s like a switch being thrown deep inside your brain. It’s one of those ah-ha! moments.
At least that’s how it works for me. Like the very act of writing, the process comes differently for everyone. Things would really be easy if we could just name all of our characters Bob.