What’s in a Name?

Ann H Gabhart Ann's Posts, One Writer's Journal

The name of a man is a numbing blow from which he never recovers. ~Marshall McLuhan

  • Do you like your name?
  • Have you changed your name from the name your parents gave you?
  • Are you burdened with a nickname you hate?

I’m creating characters right now. Well, a couple of the characters have been walking around with me for several weeks. One of them had a name before she had much of anything else. The name was the beginning of her created self. The other one waffled back and forth with a name and eventually found the one that fits. The third character is still nameless. At least mostly nameless. I’ve named him a couple of times, but I’m not sure either name is going to stick.So when I’m in the “who in the world am I going to write about next” stage of story development, I think a lot about names. And look at a lot of names. I have a falling apart baby name book. I’ve bought a couple of newer ones, but it’s that book with no cover and big sections coming loose that I go to. That is the naming book. I’ve been searching through it for a strong name for this third character. A name that lets you know right away that this character is the one you need to pay attention to. This character is going to play a major role in this story. This character is named……????I may have told you before that I was never all that crazy about my name. I like it okay now, and even when I didn’t, I would have never thought about changing the name my parents – or my big sister if you believe her story – picked. But characters are different. Characters can undergo name changes with hardly a bat of the eye. And no legal fees. So why not? A character needs a name that fits.You see when we were born, our parents were just guessing at the kind of person we’d grow up to be. A Lucy? A Josephine? A Matilda? Harry? Hiram? Hastings? But it’s different with characters. We know what kind of person he or she is or was. Our job is to help the reader meet that person. And one way to begin doing that is with the right name. Do you think names shape people? I might have been a different person – say somebody who ran for office – if I’d been named Barbara. According to one of my name books – not the falling apart one – Barbara is a very strong name. And yet, I’ve never named a character Barbara. I don’t know why not. It’s a perfectly respectable name that can be shortened into a decent enough nickname or two and it doesn’t end in “s.” That’s a sorry reason for rejecting a name, but I still think Hanks’s looks awkward on the written page. Correct perhaps but awkward. I have enough to worry about ferreting awkward phrasing out of my writing without inviting any poorly named characters to my story.But I do love coming up with the right names for my people. You know maybe we should have a childhood name and an adult name. They could be the same, but they wouldn’t have to be. Some of the Native American tribes did this, didn’t they? And I think I have heard the Amish have family names they don’t share with the world people. Or could be I dreamed that. So maybe I’ll dream the right name for my character.And so? Do you like your name? Words have meaning and names have power. ~Author Unknown