Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Name Game

My novels are usually character driven. That's just the way I write. The character is the one who decides where we're going with this creation. This means that the story can't go anywhere until the main character has a name. And not just any name. I have to find the name that suits her perfectly.

If the story is not working, or if I'm having trouble getting started, I sometimes find it's because I've given the character the wrong name. So I try a different one.

In the case of my new story, I thought I wanted to give the girl an elegant name, such as Cordelia or Olivia, and she would be better known by her nickname, Corrie or Liv. But neither worked and the story stalled. So, now I'm playing the name game.

I avoid using the name of anyone I know because I'd be afraid my character would take on the personality of the real-life person whose name I'd borrowed. That could result in a real power struggle.

When writing for children I've found it best not to call your character by a name that could cause gender confusion--unless that is part of your plot.

You'll want to chose a name that is consistent with the time in which your story is set. I've found contemporary teen names in the captions under team photos on the sports page of the local newspaper. And I frequently use the phone book to find family names.

If you want to ensure that the name you're giving your character is appropriate for the year of your story, check out www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames. You can search the site for popular names by year, as far back as 1897.

In my day, popular names for girls were Barbara, Patricia and Carol. Boys were James, Robert and John. Some classic names--Sarah, Emily, William and Robert--never go out of style. Biblical names too--Benjamin, David and Ruth--are ageless. But I'd stay away from Hadadezar.

For the past 10 years the top names have remained Emily, Jacob and Michael. It interests me to see today's parents sometimes giving their babies old-fashioned names like Charles or Amelia or Isabel. I think it shows imagination.

There are plenty of names to chose from. I'll keep trying them out on my protagonist. Today, I'm leaning towards Delia.

Write on.

No comments: