|"Oh, Baxter." "Oh, Amelia Bedelia"|
As a child, the Good Girls in my head had names like Aurora and Raina and Annie while the boys were Alistair and Alexander and John. Names I thought had integrity and strength. Bad Boys were Butch, Bill or Joe. Don’t ask me why, I have no idea. Others would have considered these fine, upstanding names. Whatever your personal preferences, names definitely leave a perception. When you name a character for strength, what names do you choose? Is it the same method for naming the evil or insincere personalities who populate your manuscripts?
Recently it was suggested that the names of two of my protagonists were outdated and readers might relate better if they underwent a name change. Hmm. I wonder. Is why I had trouble connecting with them myself? I usually choose names with care, but these two were such minor characters in the long ago, original version that I hadn’t bothered. I named her after someone I knew whose eyes I’d given her. I didn’t know she was a diva who would claw her way to center stage.
When choosing a name here are some points to ponder:
- Names can reflect nationality and culture. Would you have a Hindi character named Rajesh MacGyver? Possibly, but it better not be by accident.
- A strong name for readers from a different culture may not work for readers in mainstream USA. I have known American men named Evelyn, Kaye, and Gayle. Uncommon in the US, but respectable British male names. Is your character carrying on the family name? Has a boy been named for Evelyn Waugh, his mother’s favorite British author? How will that affect him?
- If a famous or infamous person shares that name, how will readers respond? What’s the first thing that comes to your mind at the name Lex Luther? Martin Luther? Luther Vandross?
- When was the name popular? There are many sites to help you with this or you can check www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames for popular names in the birth year of your character. I was always comfortable with my name even though there were three girls named Mary in my parochial school class. Today, Shanika, Mackenzie, or Flaherty are common. If you’re writing a book about a contemporary character should she be a Mary or a Flaherty? Popularity and age aren't the only considerations.
- Be aware of nuances of meaning. Does your character personify his name? Does he grow into it as the story progresses? Is the name at complete odds with his actions? Does he like his name?
- How does the name sound aloud? Is it rhythmical? Is it too similar to another character’s name? A reader may have difficulty differentiating between a Jack and a Jock in the same story, unless you plan for it. What kind of emotion does the name elicit? Think Amelia Bedelia.
- Watch for how the initials or nicknames would look. Did you ever consider the potential travel problems for Karen Kay Kline and her boyfriend Albert Qaeda?
A well chosen name can help a reader connect to a character. The character’s personality, strengths, flaws, even her relationship with her family should influence the decision. If the name doesn’t seem to fit or doesn’t resonate with beta readers, choose another. Now, back to 100,000 Baby Names by Bruce Lansky.