Friday, January 29, 2010

A Rose by any Other Name - Writing Tip

I feel that character names should reflect character in some way and I believe readers feel this subconsciously, as well.

Let's make up a character. Call her Christina. An old-fashioned name, or an ethnic name. If she's Christina Lawrence, her folks are old-fashioned (unless this is a period piece). If she's Christina DiNapoli, she's a far different person from Christina Lawrence. Okay, so far? So what do we do with Christina, whatever her last name is? Let's make her a high school student in New Jersey. Do her friends call her Chris? If so, she's probably something of a tomboy, may be interested in athletics or even cars. Whatever she does, she'll be competent and efficient. Chrissy, however is only interested in clothes and boys, though she's pretty naive about both. Christy may write poetry, or perhaps work on the school newspaper. Tina, well Tina likes to have a good time.

It's true. We tend to adapt names to the people we know and the names and nicknames we choose can tell us a lot about people and characters. In our society today we do this all the time. I shuddered when an old high school friend, Marge Percy, named her firstborn son "Percy." Now this being that bastion of Elizabethan English tradition called the Delmarva Peninsula, women often give their oldest sons their maiden names as first names and Marge's family had both old blood and old money, so it was expected of her. Nevertheless, "Percy" signifies "wimp" to many people today. But when he was learning to talk the kid couldn't say Percy. He said, "Berky" and that got construed to Bucky and later Buck. Buck graduated at the top of his class, went to the Naval Academy and flies jets for a living. I wonder what Percy would have done.

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