A Writer's Journey

July 31, 2011

The Writer’s Toolbox: Name Dictionary

Filed under: journey,writing — mackenziew @ 4:05 am
Tags: , , , ,

Every writer has a toolbox, much like a carpenter or someone in construction. Only our tools are different.  I’ll highlight a few over the course of several posts. This one will focus on the name dictionary. And the reason why? Well, I currently have it open on my internet tab. One of them, that is.

“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet.  He then wrote about the rose, but it wasn’t really the flower he was talking about. He was talking about a theater called The Rose. It was by the river and thanks to the subpar sanitation of the Elizabethan period, it didn’t always smell so sweet. Think about that the next time you repeat that line.

But think about it applied to your favorite characters—from any form of media. Would Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy be as memorable if their names were different? How about Sherlock Holmes? Clark Kent? Bruce Wayne? Ralph Kramden? Homer Simpson? Maybe, maybe not.

Authors know the right name is everything for their character. And there are things to consider when picking it.

1. Where and when your character is. It would be strange to see someone named “Sally” who is Chinese in a traditional Chinese setting. Just like it would be out of place for someone named Miley to show up in a medieval setting.

2. Meaning. This is two-fold. In one way, it can be about what the name actually means. For example, in one of my fan fictions, I named a character Rawlins. It means “Son of a little wolf.” The father of the character? Remus Lupin from “Harry Potter.” In my novel, I originally used the name “Ryan” as a name holder.  When I tried to find a more meaningful name, I learned that “Ryan” meant “king.” I then decided to keep the name.

Then there may be if a name is meaningful for the author personally. Recently, someone pointed out something on a forum I belong to. She noticed that Stephanie Meyers began writing “Twilight” around the same time that “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” was released. Keira Knightley’s character was named “Elizabeth Swann.” She also noticed that Bella’s given name is Isabella Swan. Isabella is a form of “Elizabeth.” She wondered if that was just a coincidence or if Meyers may have been influenced by the movie.

I looked things up and found out that Meyers picked the name because she always wanted to name her daughter “Isabella.” That’s not uncommon. There are other authors who have named characters after loved ones or used the names of possible children.

So, how do I choose names? Various ways, really. I mentioned name holders earlier. Those are names I choose just to sit in the story until I come up with a name for the character. For men, I usually use “Joe” and “Tom.” For women, it’s generally a toss up between “Sara” and “Kate.” Sometimes, the characters name themselves.

And then there’s the option I am going through now: The baby name dictionary. Finding names that pop out to me and then checking their meaning.

For my novel I’ve been looking up different names. I am working with three different countries. I’ve decided that each country has a different naming scheme. One country has Irish names, another French names and the third German names.

I’ve also been looking up saint names. This isn’t for the novel I’ve been talking about for the past few months though. This is another one. And I’ve decided to go the more traditional route with the naming scheme for this one. All this will be described in another post.

What does that other story have to do with this post? Well, I thought I had the perfect name for my protagonist. When I decided to check the meaning on a lark, I realized it wouldn’t fit into my proposed time frame. Or location. So I’ve gone back and am looking for another name. I’ll find it. My handy dandy name dictionary will help me. And I saw way too much Blue’s Clues.

For those curious, this is the website I use: http://www.thinkbabynames.com/

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