I’ve always had a thing for names. Weird thing to collect, right? But I have ever since I was little. I was the person who, in high school, got people to tell me their full names–even when they didn’t want to. And I hoarded them, cherished them. Names hold power.
I have a thing about names fitting a person as well. I always get upset when parents pick out names for their unborn children and do not waver or allow for any possibility of changing their minds. What if your kid is born and the name doesn’t fit? And it always irritates me when parents don’t fully think about any ramifications that the name they choose for their child could have. Naming your daughter Crystal if your last name is Ball might seem cute at the time, but it’s going to put that girl in prime position for teasing. Yes, kids can be cruel and tease for other reasons, by why give them fodder? This is my thing though, and I do fully support the right of parents to name their child whatever they choose.
When it comes to giving my characters names, I often feel like a parent, trying to choose the best one for them. A lot of times, the character just sort of tells me his or her name and it is what it is. But other times, I struggle. I’m working on a story now and I got stalled out about page five because the main character, whose voice I’ve been writing in for the last five pages, has yet to tell me what his damn name is. And everything that I think of just doesn’t fit. We’re working on it. But I’m very fortunate that most of the time, my characters’ names are apparent from the get-go.
I will fully admit that I have a penchant for J names. I don’t even know why. But characters often have them. I adore them. I want to use them all the time. But then, when I’m writing a scene and three out of the six characters in the scene have a name that begins with J…well, it can get confusing even for me. And then live in my head, I know them inside and out, so it shouldn’t be that difficult, right? But it is, because I’m an avid reader as well. We all know that phenomenon that happens when we read: our eyes catch the important letters and our mind automatically fills in the rest. So, when there are a lot of J names floating around, it’s hard to keep track of exactly who’s doing and saying what. I’ve made a conscious effort to steer clear of the J names of late. In fact, in the last three things that I’ve written, there has been only one character with a J name and she’s a secondary character.
And then are the books I read where one, or more, character(s) have names that I hate. Can’t be helped and I don’t blame anyone for that. We all have our own personal preferences, right? But, at least for me, if a character has a name that I can’t stand, it sort of pulls me out of the story a bit. That’s on me, of course. A name that I don’t like can easily be a name that someone else loves.
That being said, I only use names that I like for the characters that I like…and if I’m writing a bad guy, a villain, a mean character, then that character is probably going to have a name that I despise. It’s how I’m wired. But I’m not just slapping any old name on my characters. Each one is a deliberate choice. Whether that’s because what they “told” me their name is or I’ve given it immense thought and chosen the name specifically.
How about you? When you’re reading, or writing, does the name of a character influence the way you feel about that person?