Guest Post: What's In A Name? | Mary C Kendrick
Today my lovely book nerds I am very pleased to welcome Mary C Kendrick to my blog to talk about character names and how w euse them in fiction. It is alovely post which many will find very helpful when it comes to naming characters. This is something I occasionally struggle with too. But for now over to you Mary.
Creation and use of character names in fiction.
I love names. I adore naming things – children, pets, pot plants – so it's one of the things I REALLY enjoy about writing fiction – I get to name whole WORLDS of people!
As with pretty much anything to do with writing, there's no real right or wrong way to do it. Hey, I think it would be a really cool challenge to write a story where none of the characters were named! Or at least, the names were never revealed. Or you could give them all numbers like in that film directed by George Lucas, THX 1138.
There are, however, things to look out for or at least consider before you do them – do you want to use common names? Or do you want to use names that are more memorable because they are odd and stand out from the rest? Again, there isn't a right or wrong answer, both can work in different ways in different stories.
For me, names have to fit the story's feel and above all they have to fit the character... Of course there's an exception to every rule – maybe a big part of your character and their back ground is that name DOESN'T fit them!
I have a lot of fun with names. I try not to repeat them across stories, and sometimes I like to hide or even telegraph something about the character within the name. J K Rowling is also known for this – her character Remus Lupin is a good example, he turns out to be a werewolf. Remus is one of the twin brothers who founded Rome, the other being Romulus. They were both famously suckled by a wolf. Lupin is a toxic flower, latin name of lupinus which sounds quite a lot like lupis which is the latin name for wolf.
My husband, also an author likes to use the names of people he knows – sometimes he even lets them choose if they're going to be a good guy or a bad guy! I can't do this. Not only am I little afraid of being sued or something, if I know the person it just kills the name dead for me – Agatha Christie experienced a similar thing... She might see or hear of someone interesting and then she was frantic not to know more, not to be introduced to them because then the character idea that had been sparked off in her mind would die a death.
Behind the Name is a fabulous website on the entomology and history of names and has a huge data bank of names from pretty much any culture or country, ancient and modern that you can imagine, ones of fictional origin too. Not only can you search by country or culture but also you can search by meaning which I've found to be extremely useful!
More recently I've been writing post apocalyptic science fiction, with a world that has a large peasant class of low literacy. My thinking was that while paper and electronic records are long gone, bits of metal and pottery remain. How many times have you dug in the garden or the allotment and unearthed an old piece of bathroom tile or a bit of smashed Victorian plate? So I've been looking on the bottoms of every plate and bowl I come across, reading every drain cover and metal plating to be found on whatever pavement I am travelling along to gather names. It's an obsession that I think my children are, by now, thoroughly sick of, but it's addictive.
Next I'm going to collect names from cars, my reasoning being that the next bit of post apocalyptic world my protagonist is visiting in the sequel is where great heaps of cars rusted away and died, so I'm looking at the little raised names on the boot of cars. I don't necessarily lift the whole thing, sometimes it's bits and parts. 'Val' from Valve. 'Drant' from Fire Hydrant. That sort of thing. Sometimes I take a bit from each of two names and join them together, sometimes I write a name backwards. It's a scavenging, magpie society surviving on scraps from the old world.
Names are really important to me. I find that they're a really good way into the character, what the character is like, what they love and hate, how they react under pressure, how they behave when no one is looking. Naming seems to be a human obsession... The idea pops up in more than one creation story, the importance of naming, how it brings things into life, into being.
So, to conclude, I'd say – have fun with your character names! Mull them over, see what they taste like, ponder what would happen if you changed them – what would your protagonist be like if they were suddenly an Iris rather than a Tiffany, or a Burt instead of a Tyler? They can open up a whole world of possibilities, and paint that world a whole richer set of colours.
Happily married 30 something home education mum to seven children, like my husband Edward Ian Kendrick I'm a struggling author! I've always been transfixed, fascinated and obsessed with stories, learning to read at home pretty much by osmosis before I ever went to school. I've always written stories and have just started my sixth book, not to mention an editing mountain of epic proportions and I'm just about to commence the submission circuit of hell. It's worth a try. If no-one want's what I've got, I fully intend to head down the self publishing route.
twitter handle - @mamacrow