Sunday, February 28, 2010

What's in a Name?

Couldn't go to sleep last night and was wondering what to blog about this morning. Then it hit me - names! I could talk about names!

But what's in a name, you ask? Loads! Especially for writers.

With a name you can give the reader a bunch of information without ever actually having said anything. Let's try 'Jorge Winchester' for instance. What does it tell you? On a guess, you might say that Jorge comes from a couple with Spanish heritage, probably on the mother's side, and a more English/American bent from the father's side possibly California. (We're talking about assumptions here, guys, subconscious items you can seed in your readers' minds, so you may not have come up with exactly the same. Yet the clash of two cultures is still evident.) So right away something's already been stated about Jorge without ever spelling it out. Of course as the reader continues to learn about Jorge more will come out and it will be seen if this might even be a point of conflict for the character.

(Laughing at myself right now. First name I picked was Jesus. Spanish speakers would have read it in the Spanish as I'd intended (hehsuus), everyone else would see it in English (Geesaus) as both are spelled the same but pronounced differently - doh! But something else to keep in mind as well when choosing names!)

If possible try to keep a list of the names you use as came up with them for a story or book. Reason for this is so you can make sure to make the names different enough from one another so as not to get the reader confused. The bigger the cast, the more important this becomes. You should try not to have characters with the same beginning letter for their names. If you have an Ash, Ann, Arthur, and Alice the characters will start running into each other especially if there's large gaps between their sections. Much easier for the reader if they were called Ash, Mary, Lance, and Deidre as they are all varied and unique. The chances for confusion then are greatly decreased.

In fantasy or science fiction names are a great way to differentiate between races and even social status in your worlds. But you also have to watch not to get the names too gangly or long, as you'll lose the reader that way too. If you find someone needs to have a long fancy name, make sure that while someone speaking to them might use the long form, when you refer to them in the narrative, you have a shortened version or nickname to refer to them by. This will help the readers immensely but also give you the benefit of using the name itself as a variable on the culture.

I have a character in one of my novels called Daltimonious, but when he's with friends or when referenced in the narrative, I used the shortened form of Dal, which is much easier to read and recognize. (Plus he hates the longer name anyway - a fact Rostocha is very well aware of and therefore loves to use it on him on occasion just to watch him cringe.)

Consistency is also key if you're making your own societies or races. The uniqueness will help segregate and again build things in the background for you that won't necessarily need to be explained, but will shine in their own context. A perfect example is the Spanish use of 'Don'. In reading a story if characters call out to older men as Don Diego and Don Rodrigo but call the boy only Simon, the subconscious will pick up on the implication that 'Don' is an honorific of some sort and possibly an address of respect. In English, 'Don' has the equivalent use of Mr.

Just more details to keep in mind as you go about your writing! Hope it was at least semi entertaining! See you!
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