What’s in a name?

Shakespeare famously said in Romeo and Juliet, that “A rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet.”

So, why are the names of your characters important?

They’re probably not terribly pivotal, but I try to make them meaningful in my novel-writing. To me, it’s like naming your child — if you happen to have 20+ of them. Any old name would work, but does it fit them? What purpose does it achieve?

My characters are less cardboard cut-out inventions and more “friends in my head.” Though I use a character building worksheet, I don’t refer back to it much after the personality is established. You don’t want your character to do something because you (the author, Almighty Oz, the string-pulling deity scribe) say so, but because they do so as a function of who they are. If I care that much about a character’s ideals, morals, and motivation, I’m less likely to label them “John” (no offense if your name is John), and keep going.

For example, Jason, the protagonist in my new book, is a scrawny, 15-year-old black kid with anger issues. He’s been suspended from school for fighting and sent to an alternative school. On his first day there, a bully picks on him and Jason fights him — not because I told him to, but because a 15-year-old kid with anger issues, a messed up home life, and fresh off of punishment really wants to keep his iPod. To do that, he fights for it. But, is he fighting for the right to keep his property, or for MORE than that?

Could Jason be called “Mark”? Probably. It’s about what fits your character as you go along, and I always pictured him as a Jason. Do what works for you. After all, a rose could be a “table,” but it just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?

One thought on “What’s in a name?

  1. Excellent! Thank you for the advice. I at times get stumped on names and perhaps why is because I haven’t given enough of a personality that’s different from my own to my characters.

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