What's in a name?

3 years ago

I once was introduced to a competition called National Novel Writing Month. The challenge was to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. The idea seemed so crazy to me in the beginning, but I was hooked too. I at first thought that it would be rather easy to roll out 50,000 words, which I quickly learned wasn't really that easy. There's so much you have to stick in to make people want to read your novel for 50,000 or more words. The competition made me grow as a writer, made me see that possibly there were some major themes or ideas that I needed to flesh out to make my stories better.

In the month of April, National Novel Writing Month or as I call it- NaNoWriMo, hosted Script Frenzy. June was Camp NaNoWriMo. Script Frenzy slowly became another session of Camp, where you got to choose your own word count, and could still write a 100 page script if you so choose.  

I've only tried one session of Camp, setting my word count at 25,000 and pounding out close to it. This year, I've decided to keep going with Camp, yet again deciding to set my count at 25,000. I've already started planning ideas, bouncing ideas of some of my friends and running into one of the biggest issues I tend to run into- a character's name.

A name is the first impression you tend to get of people in real life, and usually the first impression you get of a character. You get an idea of the person just from that name, even if it ends up not being the right idea when you actually get to know them.

Tiffany, Ashley, Lindsey, Sarah, Jennifer, Kimberly, Melissa, Michelle, Jessica- those were all names that ruled the world in the 1980's. They were the kids growing up in the 90's. Those are names you see more on the cover of a book as a writer as opposed to a character. They've been regulated to the sidelines as a minor character or a sidekick because many have become burnt out on the names. Or, at least I have, and I even have one of those names.

When I name a character, the 80's names tend to never make an appearance. Those were the names of half my graduating class, names of kids that were repeated and differentiated by last names more than their first. Those are the names that I have met people and formed even my own opinions on the names. Some of those names even will only show up as villains, just because of what I've dealt with. And some of those names just won't show up at all.

I tend to choose some names that you don't see as often for girls. Riley, Allie (though both of those are starting to rise in common names now than before), Lily, Spencer, Emma. I had a character once names Amy Jo who went by AJ. I even once named a character Miley, just to break the rut of common names I had fallen into. Kate Lynn, Molly, Mindy, Mandy, names that I stumbled across in movies or book I was into at the time and tried out. I even purchased a baby name book and find myself digging through it much more than I would have expected just to find that one name that clicks.

Names- something we're given at the beginning of our lives by parents. They may shape our lives; they may shape our children's lives. Parents who grew up with common names tend to aim for uncommon names for their children. I'm living proof of how parents try that (even though mine is a story of how sometimes that backfires... You tried Mom, it’s okay. I still love you). Names that were popular in our grandparents or great grandparent’s generation are being written off as old fashioned. Names are being spelled more and more creatively to try and make them different.

Many of my characters are based on people I know. The groups of friends around my main character are based on my group of friends around me. The names I choose for them must include that little bit of a real person in them. And sometimes, that becomes the hardest name to choose. Trying to give the reader the feeling of why this name fits this person, why they should toss aside all preconceived notions of a person they may know and embrace this character.  I want this character to stick out in people's minds, and I don't want them to have to face the stumbling block of a name.

I feel the same way about my main character too. And I tend to be even tougher on my main character's name too. This is the person that a reader will be with the entire story. This will be the character that makes or break a story. A bad name could cause a reader to close a book and never come back. A bad name could break you, doom you.

But maybe, just maybe, a name could change someone's mind. A name could cause a reader to look at someone in real life in a different way. A name could create a new person; a name could change the world....

Hum...I like that idea....


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