What’s In A Name?

purple-roseIn Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare wrote

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

And what’s the reason for my quoting the Bard today? Well, as I wrote yesterday on Twitter, some authors seem to be trying so very very hard with their characters’ names, to the point where their every character’s entire personality is summed up in their name. Need some examples? Try a vampire named Nightshade, a werewolf named Lupin (yes, even J.K. Rowling has her hack moments), a fallen angel named Lucian, etc. etc. Basically, think about the meaning behind a name. Are you substituting character development for a pithy name? In other words, are you telling instead of showing? Or worse, are you choosing a name just for a literary pun?

One of the best responses to my Twitter post came from @abbymcdonald, who wrote: “Some writers forget that characters actually had to be named – by their conservative/ordinary/mainstream parents!” Which is another good point. Your brooding teen protagonist didn’t spring into being as a “Destiny”, your goth as “Velvet,” or your British nerd as “Nigel.” Well, ok, they did, in your head, but on the page they existed before they appear in the book. You imagined them — can you image their parents deciding 16 years ago that naming their daughter after a kind of fabric was a good idea? Maybe they did, but that should be a character choice, not an excuse to go with the easy choice.

What examples can you share of names that say a little too much about their characters? What about characters whose names did the opposite — set you up for an idea that ended up being far from the truth? Which did you prefer?

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