Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What's in a Name?

Names are funny things.

Some people think of names as just an appellation to address a specific person. But I think names are highly personal. You might share the same name with 10 other people on the earth or 10,000 other people, but your name is still unique to you. You own your name.

While most names have some kind of intrinsic meaning or cultural overtones, you define your name by who you are and what you do. A horrible person can ruin a lovely name whereas a kind, sacrificial person can elevate a mundane or ugly one. Someday, I'd love to read a story about a courageous, selfless heroine named Jezebel who redeems her name.

All of that said, when choosing character names, I often flesh out the character of the person first before I know their name. Which is backwards to what I described above, I know. :-) Picking favorite names is a subjective process, but every name evokes a different response in me. So once I have a particular character in mind, I scroll through lists of names, mulling over each one until I find the right sound or fit.

And then comes the hard task where I must create a compelling enough character that you associate that name with my character and not something else. It's a challenge I revel in and choosing character names is quite possibly my favorite part of the writing process. It's a good thing I'm a writer or else my poor husband would probably live in a house with a hundred cats to satisfy my naming fetish. Already I've named our houseplants, computers, and cars. And our cat has multiple names (for her multiple moods of course).

If you have a character in need of name or trying to find the perfect baby name, might I recommend my two favorite naming references, Nameberry and Nymbler. Nameberry is a trendy, user friendly blog a huge name database and great name lists sorted by topics, including several perfectly suited to finding character names for a particular historic era, locale, or theme. Nymbler is a fascinating experiment in finding similar names. Say you've got married characters named Zion and Gideon and want to find culturally similar names for their three children. Nymbler is the perfect place for that, as you can type in up to six names and the website will suggest other names inspired by those six names. Try it out--it's addictive!

1 comment:

  1. This post made me think of Madeline L'Engle's "Wind in the Door" and Meg as a "Namer." Her job was to find who a person truly is and call that part of them by their name. Naming became a picture of love. This then reminded me of "Directing Actors" and the chapter on listening - helping actors listen to each other. In fact, the idea of naming plays into many of my favorite stories. The convey identity as well as belonging. Isn't there a proverb about having a good name?


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