Saturday, January 10, 2009

What’s in a Name?

“Fate tried to conceal him by naming him Smith.” -Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

I am often asked if the naming of the main characters in The Ride was coincidence or intentional. The answer is—intentional. I had fun with the names Barbie and Ken. The dolls, with their shapely bodies, flawless skin, matching accessories, nice houses, and fancy cars represent perfect people and an ideal life. My characters, Barbie and Ken, couldn’t have been more opposite. On occasion my character, Barbie, even refers to the dolls herself. In one scene, when speaking about her husband, she says, “Our appearance may not resemble the dolls but out relationship is as plastic as they are.”

I’m also having fun with names as I write my second novel. Thinking up names caused me to wonder about some of the more famous literary characters. For instance if Rhett Butler of Gone with the Wind fame had been named Joe Smith instead, would the character have had the same impact? If Hannibal Lecter had been called, John Davis, would we have felt the fear run down our spine at the mere mention of his name? Or if the Great Gatsby had been the Great Jones…Well, you get the idea.

If you need advice on naming your characters, I’d recommend the article by Linda Schab of Wow! Women on Writing, How 2 Choose Character names for Your Novel. If you are writing a novel in set in a certain era, you may also want to check out this Social Security site. Here you can find a list of the most popular names for any year after 1879. It’s fun to visit even if you are not looking for a character name.

As a writer, how do you come up with character names? As a reader, how important are the names of the characters to you?

Thanks for stopping by.

Tags: The Ride, Rhett Butler, Gone With the Wind, Hannibal Lecter, The Great Gatsby,


Morgan Mandel said...

It is fun playing with names. I did it with cars in my mystery, Two Wrongs, but I don't think people caught on.
I used an Infiniti as the model for the car of one of the characters who got killed off.

Morgan Mandel

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

That's very clever, Morgan. I like it!

Helen Ginger said...

As a reader, I want character names to be distinctive from each other. Not all starting with the same letter or sound. Not all common names that are easily forgettable. Not unpronounceable either. I have to be able to say the name in my head.

Nancy J. Parra said...

I own several name books and tend to go through them trying to match what a name means to the character.

I like the idea of checking the social security site. I had never thought of that. Thanks!

Nice post.

Morgan Mandel said...

Sunday I'm posting about the Premio Dardos award you gave me.

Morgan Mandel

Sharon said...

Interesting food for thought. Since our book is non-fiction we didn't have to deal with this issue. However, names have great significance and reveal much about the person.

Jane's Ride - Novelist Jane Kennedy Sutton's journey through the ups and downs of the writing, publishing and marketing world