Wednesday, 4 December 2013

What's in a name?

I am the worst person at this, ever.

So it comes to sitting down with a new revolutionary great idea for your latest novel. You have the storyline all planned out - you are deadly sure that this book will change the world as it is and will influence many generations to come. You know it should be a bestseller in many countries and appear on various charts as numero uno. There is only one problem - what to name your characters? How to bestow them names worthy of their own characterisations?

I wrote something a long time ago which featured a main protagonist named Ivy. Now Ivy can be pictured into two visualisations here; the first of which is the plant itself - green and poisonous, winding itself onto any surface and digging its roots into foundations, creeping into the inside and snaking up walls, seeking out any possible weakness in structure and exploiting it.
But as for a polar opposite mental picture - Ivy can also be regarded as a beautiful name for a little girl with big green eyes, pale skin and a sweet smile.
This was the character I had dreamed up for that piece of work. I decided to take the name of a devious plant and pair it with a more positive reflection - not only to throw my reader off, but to also surprise myself too.

But how do you know if you've given your chosen character a deserving name?

Imagine how you would expect them to look. Strong jaw? Pearly white sharp teeth? Golden wavy hair? You wouldn't name a little girl Henry and a macho muscled man Sandy, would you? The names completely throw off the character that perhaps you wanted to portray. Little Henry and Sandy have magically transformed into the polar opposite of what you initially wanted.

So what are the right names for your characters?

That is something only you yourself can answer. You know your mental pictures, you know your plot and your scenery and ultimately you know how you want it to end.
For my main protagonists, I tend to pick less popular names that would stick in my readers' minds. In Beneath the Door (uh oh, plug time!) - I chose Terin - not overly feminine, quite strong and harsh on the tongue, which was exactly what I was aiming for.

Overall, in some aspects names mean so much more to a great story than the plot itself. Next time you want to write an epic three piece trilogy about the adventures of Joe Bloggs and John Smith - think again.

-H x