Saturday, May 21, 2005

What's In A Name?

Did you know, that while Margaret Mitchell was writing her epic novel GONE WITH THE WIND (not her first choice of book-title, by the way) at first she named her heroine "Pansy O'Hara"?


Luckily, the movie producer convinced Mitchell to choose another name - Scarlett O'Hara.

In fiction writing, names are important threefold:

1. The name of the story
2. The names of the principal characters in the story

3. The name of the writer.

If you find it hard to come up with varied and original names for your fictional characters, try the BabyNames index of names.

In my first draft of TERRA HEXA, the musician character was named "Pete". I am a little dyslexic with people names, and often mix up names in real life, and also when I write fiction. I kept mixing up "Pete" with another character's name, and misnamed them several times.

After I changed "Pete"'s name to "Mick", it became much easier to tell the two characters apart.

"Gulliver Foyle" is a cool character name. "Max Power" is not.
"Trapper John" is a cool character nickname. "Two Sheds" Jackson isn't.
Variations on Tolkien names - such as "Frodorithim" - are so lame, it's not even funny.

Picking a good title for a story or novel is even harder. I try to keep it short. The ideal title should be 2-4 words long, and memorable. And in the name of all things holy, do NOT try to cook up convoluted, pretentious titles like "DEATHSTORM: FATE OF MAN" (I made that one up, but there are many, many such titles around - especially in the Generic Fantasy genre!).

Finally, if your own name is very difficult to pronounce, you might consider a pseudonym. Many times I've thought that "Yngve" just isn't a very good writer's name... it's become a running joke in science-fiction fan circles.

Stephen King was lucky with the name he was born with.... it's excellently suited to put on book covers. It sings, you know?

And... if you're about to become a parent, you should really think twice about how you name your newborn baby. I mean, what kind of demented sadists name their offspring "Melvin" or "Pansy" or "Biff"?
Parents tend to be unbelievably shortsighted when they name babies. The rule of thumb shouldn't be "What sounds cool right now?" but "Am I certain that my kid will NOT be teased by other kids for his/her name?"

(Obviously, the same rule applies to the title of the book you write.)


Anonymous said...

Another tip for character names -- don't give two major characters names starting with the same letter. There's something about how people index their memory; I thought I was the only one who subconciously remembered character names by their first letters, and confused characters with names having matching first letters, but I've asked around and it seems a lot of people have the same problem.

A.R.Yngve said...

You're right; thanks.

This reminds me... we take it for granted that IN FICTION, two major characters do NOT have the same first name. But this is a literary convenience with no basis in realism.

How many people do you personally know who share the same first name?

The only fiction genre where it's proper to have two similarly named protagonists is in comedy, where it can be used to create amusing mix-ups. (Refer to the Abbot & Costello sketch "Who's On First.")

And by the way, "Angus McPresley" is a cool character/writer name.

Anonymous said...

Thanks -- the name "Angus McPresley" is actually from a quote from Brian Setzer, in response to a quote from Stuart Adamson about the USA being culturally bankrupt. Setzer responded, "Who does he think invented rock and roll -- Angus McPresley?"