Thursday, July 22, 2010

IDEAS: Naming Characters

"A rose by any other name..." this one simple section of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet holds so much meaning to me. Why? As a writer of fiction, I am forever in the process of choosing names.

In my classroom, I provide baby-naming books. I find these to be very helpful (more so than the internet because of the alphabetical listing and the ability of the writer to visually compare the names). I’ll pull out history books, encyclopedia novels, popular names of the times etc. But beyond the name books, I look for potential names everywhere.

On recent travels I saw a billboard for someone running for office. The last name was printed in blue across the board shouting out in large letters, "CHASEN". I liked it. I grabbed my notebook out of my purse and jotted it down. (Boys/men...this is why you must always either wear a sports coat with pockets, carry a bookbag, buy small, slim notebooks or ditch those stereotypes and carry a purse...a notebook on hand at all times is essential!!) The name reminded me of Jason and Chase combined. Many of the books I've enjoyed had handsome characters with these names. Of course, they are overused. Thus, ta-da! I introduce: Chasen.

At this point, my character, Chasen, has no form. No physical features, no background. Yet he does have a few things I might build on. 1. He's male. 2. His NAME is attractive (maybe he isn't...that might be his problem). 3. His name might be connected to another similar sounding word: chasten. Hmmm…4. He has lots of possible nicknames. I like characters to have at least one pet name. Something mom or grandma calls them. Maybe even the pet name is the prominent name in the story. Non-the-less, I find having pet name possibilities helpful.

If I've not been "gifted" with a name in the way I found "Chasen", I might rely on using the next best thing for my story. An advantage of being a teacher/writer is the plethora of character types that I've come across. Let's say my character is a wall-flower. She has friends, but tends to wait for decisions to be made. I'll plop a name from one of my former students (years and years ago) to hold the place until I am "gifted" with the right name for her. At least, in this way, I'm able to stay close to the character through their name as well as the action.

If you have any great suggestions for how your characters’ names develop, please share them with us. Although the name, Chasen, doesn't have a place yet in a story, it's waiting in my notebook and you’re free to try it out too!

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