The Trouble with Names

As a teacher (my other job), I have been privy to a host of names that will hurt your feelings to pronounce…or spell.  We’ve all heard the story of La-a (pronounced La-dash-a, sure) and the others like Placenta, Lemonjello (La-mon-juh-lo) and his twin brother Orangejello (Or-ang-juh-lo).  Even a recent article in GQ magazine laments the decline in the names of our children today and cautions against the popular sentiment of naming children to be cute.  But dammit, sometimes cute is…well…cute.

I am still in love with the name Heaven (not the modern counterpart of Neveah, which is heaven spelled backwards), and I am still upset with my best friend Neavada, for not naming her daughter Sahara.  Come on, Neavada (Nevada) and Sahara.  Cute.  Sickeningly cute.  I have already decided that if I decide to eventually have a child, I am going to pick a name that is hella cute.  No Susie, or Jane, or Mary for me…and this is from the woman who have aunts named Margaret, Victoria, Cheryl, and the like.  No, I want a name that will stand out without sounding stupid or obnoxious or both.

But what about naming characters?  Should you go the “cute” route?  I recently read a self-published novel (which was pretty decent), but I almost gagged at the name of one character.  And I have characters named after continents.  In fact, my alter ego Rianna Morgan, published a book with the main characters named Africa, India, and Asia.  So, what was the name of this character which made me stop reading the novel for a few days?  Ready?  *Drum roll* Paige Turner.  Tada!  Oh…you don’t get it?  A character in a book named “Paige Turner?”  I am certain the author thought it was cute, and to him, it probably was.  But to someone like myself; a self-proclaimed connoisseur of cute, it was damned annoying.

But that’s not what this post is about.  This post is about naming characters in the best way for the character and the book.  In my Blue Moon Trilogy, my main character (Layla) was named because I associated it with Laila Ali (the female boxer) and I wanted a strong female lead.  I was tired of the wussy females who needed the vampire to get them out of the troubles they got themselves into (again, another story for another day), so I picked Layla.  The book title was deliberate.  In my research I discovered a Native American website (this was Layla’s heritage) and I wanted to be as authentic as possible.  With Native American roots of my own (Arawak), I understood the need to be true to her family ties.  The name Tala (book one) means ‘wolf’, while book two, Maikoda, means ‘power of the moon’, and the book three, Hania, means ‘spirit warrior’.  These titles fit perfectly with what I was trying to accomplish with the book.  As Layla, (who was a Werewolf), got stronger and better understood her powers, she changed…and so did her titles, per se.  But it was all in the name.

When naming your characters, be original, but make the name fit.  Are the parents of your main characters ultra conservative?  Then Susan or Kimberly or Jennifer might be best.  They are not going to name their twin daughters Spring and Summer.  Are they superstitious?  Religious?  Werewolves?  Have  the names fit the personality of the characters.  Was the main character born under extraordinary circumstances?  Then naming her Hope or Precious or Destiny is quite fine.  When I was a kid, there was a family down the street who had daughters named Joy, Charity, Faith, and Love…but, their father was a minister and since these were some of the Godly virtues, it makes sense (in a way).

Readers inherently KNOW when the name is being forced onto a character and when the personality of the character does not fit the name.  Unless its deliberate, where the main character laments not living up to the name bestowed upon them or trying to be more like their namesake, let it go.  Save the name for another character, because chances are, this will not be your only book.  Right now, I am holding onto Angel Haven.  Yeah, its cheesy and utterly ridiculous, but its still kinda cute.  In fact, I came up with the name when I was in middle school and wanted to write a book about a girl born to a fallen angel and a mortal.  I still want to write that book (with more mature changes, of course) and so, I am still holding onto that name.  For better or worse.

~ by Adrianna Morgan on November 27, 2013.

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