What’s In A Name?
I’m Deb. Although it’s not an uncommon name, certainly not an interesting name, I’m particular about it. If you call me Debbie, I may not respond, and the only places I tolerate being addessed as Debora is in doctor's offices. No need to get chummy there.
My brothers married Debbie and Deborah. At the very least, that shows a distinct lack of imagination. Growing up, there were at least three or four Debs/Debbies/Debras in every class. Names run in streaks, you know.
By adulthood, I’d had enough. I determined to name my children not-typical names. We ended up with Mollika, Bjorn-Josef, and Darthaniel. I’m convinced Darthaniel was born three weeks late because Husband insisted on naming him D'Artagnan; you know, from the Three Musketeers story. It took me a while to find a close-enough name he’d go for.
Tell me, how would a child with an apostrophe ever get through kindergarten? As it was, our boy hated his name his first month of school. The rule was, “As soon as you write your name, you may go play.” Tim and Sue had the advantage, while Darthaniel and Stephanie struggled with their extra letters. They soon became “Stef” and “Darth.” In the age of “Star Wars,” that had its own drawbacks.
My criterion for names is that they should be interesting, and must be pronounceable at a glance. I met a woman named Alycyee, who insisted her name was Alice. What were her parents thinking? Same with my friend’s daughter, Kuqwinnsce, whose name sounds like Quincy. Husband’s uncle, Maurice, says his name is Morris, not pronounced Mor EES, as it’s spelled.
As I’ve dabbled in fiction writing, working on Novels #2 and #3, I find my opinion is the same for naming characters. It’s slightly less agonizing than naming a full human, but still important. If you pick the wrong time period or geography, it may jar the reader. A Native American warrior will probably not be named Giovanni, any more than a medieval princess be called Lulu.
Partway through my first cozy mystery, I needed a name for the kooky cruise director. I wanted to name her Lisle. I’ve always I liked that name, and we didn’t have enough daughters to inflict it on. As I mulled it over, I could plainly “hear” the character blurt “Lisle rhymes with weasel, and that won’t do for a public relations job, so I’m Cinci, from Cincinnati.” Cinci turned into a favorite character—and what a character she is!
I’m all in favor of talking to myself– sometimes, it’s the only guaranteed attentive audience– but coming from a non-fiction background, hearing voices in my head that didn’t sound like my own was unnerving. I learned to listen to the characters speak as if they were already developed, just waiting for me to wrap words around their story.
As you write, try listening to the character’s voice, envisioning them speaking to you. After all, names are meant to be personal, validating, and imaginative, within reason. I draw the line at ridiculous names, such as the little boy named Fruit Stand, and his sister, Celestial Being, called Bea.
Life’s hard enough, without one’s own moniker being a handicap.