Thursday, February 10, 2011

What's In A Name? A Rose By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet - Or Would It?

Naming characters is often one of the most important things that we do as authors.  Having the right name for a character can make or break that personality.  Imagine if Scarlett O'Hara had been Jane, for instance.  It just doesn't have the same magic.   Or imagine Jack and Rose, the star-crossed couple of Titantic movie fame as Tiffany and Cody.   It doesn't quite work.

Names must fit the character and the period.  Contemporary names may seem easier but they aren't not always simple to select.   Historical names need to be true to the period you portray - nothing shakes me out of a good read like a character name that just doesn't fit.  

When I read about a woman in the Wild West, I want her name to reflect the times and place.  That doesn't work so well for me as a reader if her name is Tami or Savannah or Ashley than if she answers to Kate, Rose, or Anna.

When I begin a new work, I think long and hard about names.  Once in a great while, a name pops into my head that fits the character and so I go with it.  Other times, I consult those "names for baby" books, look up names of a historical period, or even resort to playing around with the Baby Name Genie.

The Baby Name Genie is really kind of fun.  It's an online site in which you can ask the "genie" to give you a name for a child of either gender or a name with no gender preference.  You can add a last name or not.   Best of all, although you have to ignore the increasingly sarcastic "comments" from the genie, the generator will continue to give you name as long as you ask - giving you a chance to either choose a name or at least find inspiration or direction.

So, Shakespeare, another writer, had it on the mark with his famous line from Romeo And Juliet - what's in a name?

For a writer, the answer can be very significant.

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