Monday, October 29, 2012

The Importance of Names

Some of you may or may not have heard that there is a hurricane in the works over the East Coast. I think, if nothing else, this hurricane points out the flaw in the hurricane naming system. I mean, I just can't get that excited over a hurricane called Sandy. The only Sandy I know is the one in Grease, so when the very grave looking news reporter man says "Sandy is racing towards New Jersey" all I can think about is Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta belting out Summer Nights. This...

...doesn't exactly make me want to run for cover. 

Names are important. Everything - and everyone - has one. People, places, types of food, colors, hurricanes, and especially characters can be defined by the name they are given. Let's play a game. I'm going to list a few names, and you think of the first thing that pops into your head. Ready? Set? GO! 






If, like me, you thought Harry (Potter), Taylor (Swift/Lautner), Scout (that girl in To Kill a Mockingbird), Nancy (Drew/Grace), and Edward (Cullen) then you realize just how important names are. They are an instant source of recognition for people. A name can make - or break - your novel. I won't name specifics, but there has been many a time I've been reading a book and been completely drawn out of the story by a crappy name. Or, vice versa, I've thought "YES! That name describes this person PERFECTLY!". 

Picking out names for my characters is one of my favorite parts of writing. I love it and I think it is really, really important because a name can say a lot about your character before you (or the reader) even gets to know them. Let's take Lola, the protagonist in Pitch, for example. I knew she was going to be a bad ass feisty chick, and I knew that selecting just the right name was an absolute necessity. I also wanted to give her a name that, while not very common, wasn't completely "out there". 

After a few days of brainstorming, the name "Lola" literally just popped into my head. I immediately rushed over to my BFF to look up the meaning and origin (sorrow/Spanish) and instantly decided that it was perfect. I had to do a little reworking in the story (originally Lola's parents were both going to be Japanese, but after I settled on her name I decided to make her father of Hispanic descent -- little known fact, Lola is named after her dad's mother) and everything came together like it was meant to be. 

Similarly, the main character from After Ever was easy to name and that's only because I got a little selfish. I have always loved the name Winnifred. If I ever have a daughter, the poor kid will most likely be laughed at, but she'll be tougher for it in the long run (right?). Winnifred came across as a little too old fashioned for a sixteen year old girl, however, so I made the change to "Winnie" and I think it suits her fairly well. It also allowed me to indicate when Winnie was REALLY in trouble (if you read the novel, you most likely noticed Winnie is almost always referred to as Winnifred by her father) and when a certain someone wanted to be sweet, I could shorten the name to Win. 

For the Wedded Women Quartet, I had to be a bit more selective. When I think 19th century England, I think soft and old fashioned (which, unfortunately, leaves out Beyonce). When you're writing a time period piece, it is very important to do a little bit of research. You can't go naming people willy nilly without knowing A) the origin of their name and B) when the name was "created"/became popular. Since I also knew I would be writing a quartet and the characters would be popping up frequently, I wanted to distinguish them very clearly from one another which meant no names that sounded or looked similar. I mean, could you imagine how confusing it would have been to have a Catherine, Caroline, Cora, and Clara? Instead, I decided on Catherine, Margaret, Josephine, and Grace. Old fashioned, check. Popular in England, check. Easy to distinguish, check.   

Hopefully you get the idea of what I'm trying to say here, even though it's gotten a little long and rambling. Maybe I should write a letter to the hurricane naming committee with a few suggestions. Personally, if there was a hurricane named "Voldemort" you could bet your ass I would be cowering in the nearest basement. 

Just sayin'. 

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