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Blogvember. Naming names…

According to a relative of mine it is ‘blogvember’. I’m not entirely sure how widespread this concept is because when I googled the term, her post was in the first page of search results. Of course, I had it open at the time as well so I’m not sure whether that made a difference or not.

At any rate it gave me the kick I needed to get blogging again myself. Yes, it’s been a while (kicks self). Nanowrimo and few other things made inspired me get back into novel writing for a bit and it’s been pretty time-consuming. Both projects began as ‘novelizations’ of screenplays I’ve written but one has developed into a full-blown book that I’m already starting a sequel for. The other one will be strictly a novella. Short and sweet. And probably free and self-published just to stick my neck out there, which always feels like I’m putting my head under a guillotine. Chop!

Novel writing got me to thinking a lot more about character names. That and having a bunch of friends and relatives who have had babies over the past few years. In scripts you can get away without even naming a lot characters, at least as far as the audience ever sees. With novels it’s a lot more difficult. In earlier novels I’d sometimes name characters after characters in other books or movies that I wanted to subtly reference. Other times names just pop into my head that I think might ‘suit’ the character somehow and usually they are based either on names I’ve encountered repeatedly in life, or names I just happen to like for whatever reason. I’m certainly not one to ever knock the power of the subconscious.

While I like some characters names to fit their professions or other traits, I dislike when it’s too obvious, even in humour. I would never use the name ‘Gross’ for one who never bathes for example, but it’s fine for a character who is also a very large man, or for the sake of irony, a very tiny one. One of my favorite real life examples is the TV financial analyst ‘Art Cashin’.

Naturally using an ‘ethnic’ name is an easy way to give a partial description of a character and depending on where they live it might go into shaping their world view to a fair degree. One fantastic site I found is http://www.20000-names.com, which gives a huge list of both female, male and last names for a variety of different nationalities.

The site also give the meanings of the various names, which can add depth to the character or the story in more subtle ways. For example, you could have a character who is a psychic and call her ‘Aislin’ which is an Irish name for ‘dream’ or ‘vision.’

Surnames have various meanings as well. Most people are well aware of ones that were once attached to a particular occupation like Miller or Baker, but probably fewer would know that Lowell means ‘wolf’ or Madoc refers to ‘luck’. This site is very useful and has a great search function. http://www.behindthename.com/themes.php

Names don’t just indicate the character however, but sometimes say even more about the character’s parents. Parents who knowingly give their kid a ‘joke’ name or put little thought into it are probably lousy parents in other ways as well. The book Freakonomics delves into this topic. The name a parent gives a child can be a strong indicator of their socio-economic origins, which itself can have a profound impact on that person’s life later on, particularly when he or she has to go look for a job*. It is also another way to add depth or a level of irony to both the character and the story. For example, you’re not likely to find too many debutantes with the name ‘Destinee’. Near the back of the book is a helpful list of different female and male names, along with the average number of years of education the mother had.

According to someone I know who works in the education system, more often than not, kids with ‘low-class’ names tended to have much lower marks and much higher truancy levels. It isn’t just stereotypes.

For background characters, sometimes I want a name that is generic without resorting to something completely hackneyed. The US Census Bureau provides a handy list of the most common First and Last names.

Anyway, to keep me more disciplined I plan to follow up with two more posts on characters: my own personal likes and dislikes for character names just from what I’ve come across, and one where I play with different ideas of how names shape characters.

Happy blogvember! The cold miserable rain is a great excuse to stay indoors and write.

* http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2007/apr/29/theobserversuknewspages.uknews

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