Monday, June 20, 2011

Characters' Names

Can you imagine being God and having to give a name to everything on earth? That daunting task makes naming the few characters in your book easy!

The creator of Harry Potter series had a good time naming her humorous characters using several imaginative methods that bear investigating. Harry was drawn from “every Tom, Dick and Harry” meaning a common name to which children could relate. The villain, Voldemort, besides the alliteration of the “v’s”, is from the French ‘vold’ meaning theft, ‘de’ for of and ‘mort’ for death. Hermione, the smartest girl in the books, means eloquent and bright. Rowlings used alliteration in other names such as Servierius Snapes, Pansy Parkinson, Peter Pettigrew (who grew into a pet rat reiterating the PETer), and Filius Fitzpatrick to help young readers remember so many characters. Dolores Jane Umbridge, the meddling, strict older woman comes from Delores meaning sorrow while umbridge plays on umbrage for offensive, annoyance or displeasure. The Weasley brothers, Bill, Percy, Charles, Fred, George and Ron, are all common, nonthreatening names putting them easily in the “good guy” column. Rowlings lived on the edge of Forest of Dean in England and used it as the setting for Hagrid who turns out to be a good character.

Researching name origins can often give you ideas that match the characters you are developing. Many surnames originate from the occupation of men in the Middle Ages. “Houseman” is a useful man; “Pfeiffer” mean a whistle or pipe player; “Chandler” is one who makes candles; “Albert” means noble, bright or famous; “Peter” can be a stone or rock, thus Peter-son is the male kin of a stone mason. “Gregory” is watchful and vigilant. “Wardell” is one who dwells hear the watch hill, “Truman” is someone who is faithful and loyal, “Christi,” “Christopher” and “Kris”are followers of Christ.

Use the following to help match your protagonists and antagonists to appropriate names:

Top ten baby names of each year (for 2010 boys’ names: Aden, Jacob, Ethan, Michael, Alexander; girls’ names: Ella, Olivia, Emma, Sophia, Ava); popular books and web sites give the meanings of thousands of names and top names for each year and decade.
Phone books
Obituaries and births announcements
➢ Your imagination
Rosters of large organization such as the U.S. Congress, Britain’s Parliament.
Court records

Tips to help you:
Pair a common first name with an uncommon last name or vice versa.
Avoid overly wordy or cute spellings (Genyfer or Mycal for instance.)
Avoid trends. Common names seem to stand better in time.
Trendy names work only if you match the name with the age of the character. Connie is the name of 60-70 year old woman not a girl of 12 if your setting is 2000. Horace is an 1880’s name, not a 1940’s setting name. Also, match ethnicities and settings. Billy Bob is not a common combination in the Midwest.
• Try not to make up surnames such as Adamsley, Smither, or Johnstone. It is too contrived.
• Do not end the first name with the same letter as the beginning of the surname (Tom Minor, Terry Yardley, Pat Tarmage.)
Avoid Bob, Jim, Jane, John and Joe which are too forgettable.
Read aloud the names you have chosen in context. “Rodriquez put on his top hat and cashmere coat and left Marry Poppins in charge.” “ Mary Poppins” is a wonderful name because this magical nanny popped in and out of families’ lives at a whim but Rodriques does not match the persona of an English banker.
• Try not to use apostrophes: d’Blum, d’VanDer Bergen.
• The names should be easy to pronounce or it irritates the reader and makes for confusing conversations with critics, book clubs and reviewers. Radmina Rovanestkeyvitova is a no-no.
Futuristic names can be unusual or weird so go for it if you write fantasy. Be sure to look up abnormal names or definitions of eldritch words to make sure there is nothing in using that as a name that would not match your character or mean of the opposite of the personality of your character.
Siblings’ names should vary. Trace, Trevor, Tim and Ted as well as Sherry, Susan, Sandi and Sarah are too confusing.
• Madison, Connie, Ashley, and Evelyn were at one time male names only so do your research.
Match the country to the name. Andrew is not a good name for a Russian antagonist.
• “T” and “S” are strong consonants and “D’ and “B” have a more pleasant ring.

Several web sites are: www.ancestory.com; www.writing-world.com/romance/names.shtml; www.listofbabynames.org; www.babynameguide.com

1 comment:

Mary Jane Honegger said...

I'm currently reading Anna Karenina and wishing with all my heart that Tolstoy had read your post! Unfamiliar names certainly make reading less enjoyable for me.

Oops. I was just reading this to my granddaughter and she says unfamiliar names make reading more interesting! There, two comments for the price of one. Mary Jane & Madison