Hi SE’rs, Joan here. Happy first day of March. The Story Empire authors are expanding our blogging schedule to Mondays and Wednesdays along with a Friday share thread. I’m the first to post on Wednesday. Today, I want to talk about character names.
A couple of months ago, while outlining my current WIP, I said to my husband, “I need a name for my antagonist.”
He was quick to respond. “How about Damien?”
Immediately I thought of The Omen. “He’s a bad guy not a child of the devil.” Needless to say, I chose something else.
A few days later, after having thought about it, I decided to look up the meaning of Damien. Turns out, it is of Greek origin, derived from the word Damianos, which is from the word damazo and means “to tame.”
Saint Damian and his twin brother Cosmo were martyred in the early fourth century in Syria. They are the patron saints of physicians—a far cry from being the child of Satan. But many of us perceive Damian as being demonic because of the movie.
If you ask a dozen different writers how they name their characters, you might get a dozen different answers. I once heard of an author that does extensive background research, even matching the name meaning with the character’s personality.
But I tend to agree with Shakespeare when he said, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Or in the case of my antagonist, a skunk by any other name would smell as bad.
I don’t follow any hard and fast rules but I do attempt to match character names with their ages, ethnicity, and of course, gender.
Mildred or Velma makes me think of an older woman. Emily, Hannah, Madison, and Ashley were popular in the year 2000 and therefore good for a teenage character.
A person named Antonio would lead me to believe the character might be of Italian descent whereas the names Carlos or Juan indicate Hispanic origin.
Some names are unisex, although at times there are variations in the spelling. A few that come to mind are Lynn, Lee, Jordan, and Alex.
This may sound like stereotyping, but if I hear Joe Bob or Betty Sue, I envision characters living in the southern United States. Albert, Edward, Elizabeth, and Victoria sound more aristocratic, likely because they are associated with members of the British royal family.
Language use evolves over the years. What was once acceptable may no longer be. As an example, producers of the 1992 film The Last of The Mohicans changed the name of the main character to Nathaniel Poe (also known as Hawkeye) so as not to elicit giggles and sneers from the audience.
In James Fennimore Cooper’s 1826 novel, the character was Natty Bumppo. Suitable for the early nineteenth century, but not so for the late twentieth. Personally, I can’t see Daniel Day-Lewis portraying a character with such a silly name.
Now it’s your turn. How do you decide character names? Do you research the meanings? Keep a list of potential ideas? Please share in the comments.