On the Power of Names

I’m fleshing out some characters and creating new ones, and I’ve been thinking about names all day. As it turns out, for me as a reader and a writer, names hold nearly unfathomable weight.

In fact, every character I’ve ever loved or been taken with in literature has an amazing name. Jay Gatsby,  J. Alfred Prufrock, Heathcliff, Edgar Linton, Mina Harker, Mr. Darcy, Mr. Rochester, Jane Eyre, Victor Frankenstein, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Jean Valjean. The list could go on and on for miles.

I am learning about naming characters as I go. Each character needs a name that sets him or her apart. So, it’s not good to have too many first names starting with  “M” in the same novel, for example. Also, names should be memorable in a way that reflects on the character. Is he or she quick witted? Sharp tongued? Lazy? Sly? Heroic? Romantic? How can names reflect something about the hero or heroine, not to mention secondary characters?

In my line of writing, the gothic romance, houses need fitting names, too, since they are characters in their own right. That’s not as easy as it seems, but it’s always a fun undertaking. What one or two word name will stick in a reader’s mind and transport him or her to the halls and grounds of that house? Some favorite houses of mine in literature are Wuthering Heights, Thrushcross Grange, Greygallows, Wyndspelle, and Manderley.

And make no mistake. Naming is an art. We all know this from the terrible, outdated, or even just boring names we see people come up with for their own children. Syllable count is important as is assonance and alliteration. Nicknames derived from names are important, too. I love the name Donovan, but I’m careful not to let my Donovan from Magnolian become Don. It just doesn’t have the same romantic ring, does it? From the same novel, Willoughby can be shortened to a pleasant and forceful Will.

My own daughter is named as she is because of the sound of the first and last name together– not to mention the middle name– and the meaning behind her name. Since characters are like children born after hours of labor, I work to name them with the same care. When I find a winner, it’s worth the trial and error.

So, who are your favorite or most memorable literary characters? Do their names have an impact on your love for them?

Posted on February 11, 2011, in on writing. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: