Friday, January 29, 2016

Would a Character By Any Other Name Smell So Sweet?

"Words have meaning and names have power" -Cervantes.

Recently, I realized a lot of my story ideas start with character names.

For example:

Trixie Thimble the Pixie Nimble: Any guesses as to what her character and story is like? That's right! She's brave, quick-witted, and energetic! As for her story, it's a light-hearted, fun adventure.

Avery Mann: the name of the main character in my first-ever-totally-completed MG novel. The inspiration for this one came from my exposure to everyman plays and my desire to create a character everyone could identify with. However, can you spot the problem with this name?
The downside to Avery's name is it's nebulous and can belong to either a boy or girl, which means it became important to establish Avery's gender as early and clearly as possible since it's a first-person narrative. So keep in mind that using ambiguous names (like Pat!) in your stories will require extra work on your part.

Domino Sparks: He's a genius tinkerer, who loves making things (including a new robot friend). Something about the name brings him to life in my mind... like a little Einstein inventor. Domino Sparks might also make a very good jazz singer name, too. Hmmm... 

Lastly, my latest creation:

Finnegan Fife: this one is from a new YA fantasy I'm working on. The name came from brainstorming a title: The Forgettable Life of Finnegan Fife. I wanted to write a story about someone who is forgotten by his friends. Ironically (or not), the alliteration and rhyme help make this a memorable title. The name also inspired me to use a leprechaun curse as the reason for Finnegan's troubles.

These names came to me in a variety of ways, but they all have something that makes them stand out. Some are alliterative, others rhyme, a one has a deeper literary meaning. Most importantly, all of them are evocative (at least to me) in some way. They conjure up a picture for me as a writer and hopefully you as a reader that we can latch onto. They hint at the inner personalities for these main characters or at the tone of the stories they are involved in.

Not every story needs such names. In fact, some stories should have plain name heroes. Probably the best example I can think of is Harry Potter.

His name is "perfectly normal, thank you very much," which is exactly what it needs to be to drive home his starting disconnection with the Wizarding World. It allows readers to connect with him as an "ordinary" boy. We all know a Harry... maybe even a Potter.

If he had a strange name like Albus Dumbledore, Hermes Hendrickson, or Angus Beef, I think there would've been a different feel to Harry's whole character and our response to him. So, here's to J.K. Rowling... the woman-who-knew-how-to-name-her-characters.

So, what are some of your character's names and why are they evocative to you or good for your stories?


  1. I may be crazy to say it (publicly) but I swear my characters name themselves. Yup, names are evocative and have to be right.

    1. Great observation! I get that feeling too.