What’s In a Name? More Than You Think.

Names

 

by Cassie Newell

It’s interesting how names come about in literature and other facets of life. Do you ever wonder how names come about in writing and whatnot? I read an interesting fact today. It was about how Clark Kent came to be Superman. If you know me very well, you know I have a great affection for superheroes and Superman is my all-time favorite.

What was interesting to me is that in 1934 Superman was endowed with the strength of 10 men but he couldn’t fly. After being turned down by 15 syndicators, The Man of Steel took the air and acquired the needed strength to become a super legend. Some say Superman’s success is within the storyline of his secret identity whose name was derived from two popular actors of the time Clark Gable and Kent Taylor. And hence Clark Kent was born via secret identity to Superman. The interesting fact makes the debate of which came first the chicken or the egg come full circle.

I often think about names for my characters and what they mean and represent as I develop them. Then on other whims, I’m drawn to a quick name without consequence. It also depends on my mood and how developed I will make the character. I’ve used a variety of methods in coming up with names via character or fictional objects and places.

Did you know how the name ‘Wendy’ was invented by J. M. Barrie for a character in his 1904 play Peter Pan? The poet W. E. Henley, a close friend of Barrie’s, had a four-year-old daughter, Margaret. Because her father always referred to Barrie as a “friend”, she would try to imitate him by saying “fwend” or “fwendy–wendy.” Sadly, Margaret died at the age of six but her expression lives on in Peter Pan and to all the Wendy’s that have followed.

I’ve loved this story for years and more so with my youngest, which I tend to think wanted to be a lost boy at one time. Nonetheless, I’ll always believe in fairies and Tinkerbell is by far the best fairy of all, plus her name is awesome.

Lastly, it’s also how writers name lands in the worlds they build. Did you know how L. Frank Baum came up with the name the Wizard of Oz in his classic tale of Dorothy Gale from Kansas? He began telling a group of children in 1899 about this story. A little girl asked him about the name of his magical land with the scarecrow, tin men, and cowardly lion. He looked around the room for inspiration. He happened to be sitting next to a filing cabinet with the drawers labeled A-G, H-N, and O-Z, which gave him a quick answer: OZ.

It’s interesting how writers come up with names for their stories, be it places, persons or things. Some use name generators or play with everyday words. Some use baby name books and search census data on popular names. Others view the meaning of names in order to select a name based on a character trait. If you read sci-fi or paranormal romance, you probably scratch your head on how to pronounce several names from time to time. I find it fascinating how writers come up with names. Also, these few facts and stories are quite interesting to behold for sure.

How do you come up with your character names? Is there a special formula? Any annoyances as a reader?

 

 

Guest post contributed by Cassie Newell. Cassie’s professional background is in the clinical research field and now she blogs, writes, does graphic design and sketches. She is in pursuit of completing her first novel.

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18 thoughts on “What’s In a Name? More Than You Think.”

  1. I feel like my characters usually come with names.. they just pop into my head already named! I did however name one of the main characters in my almost finished novel after a friend’s daughter who was stillborn. When it comes to naming places I have definitely taken to a Thesaurus.

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  2. I struggle with finding that “perfect” name for my characters. But rather than trying to find the right fit for the character as I know them, I try to match it to their upbringing. What name would their mother/guardian have given them? Of course if it’s a minor character, I’ll give them a name that gives away their purpose (Tiny the bouncer, for example). Anyway, that’s my process. 🙂

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  3. Great post. A lot of things I never knew. I never thought about how I came up with some of my character’s names. I think for the most part, I was inspired by a person and used a derivative of their names or something that reminded me of them. By thinking about it now, I can see how that can create future conflicts.

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  4. I tend to favor names starting with different letters at different times. Looking back I can easily see K, M, and T eras. I can’t see a pattern in my naming choices right now, but in a few years I’m sure I can look back and pick it out.

    Names are fascinating, insightful, and powerful things

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  5. My characters usually come with names or a name for them comes to me before I start writing. Sometimes this name will show its significance from the start, but sometimes if not quite often I’ll realize an unknown significance that somehow manages to fit into the story at hand. I’m always fascinated and humbled by this. Usually I’ll like a name and it fits with a character then later I look it up on a whim and find out something that solidifies its place. This generally takes place either after the story is completed or well on its way to that end.

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  6. Interesting read. I learned some things I definitely did not know. As far as naming characters goes, other than a select few who are very personal to me in some way, most kind of just come to me as I write.

    Sometimes though it can be themed on the personality or archetype of the character themselves or how they will eventually develop. Most of the time though, they just hit me as I’m writing, almost like they are telling me their own names as I write them.

    I like to imagine that the stories I read or write are simply tales from an alternate reality of people who may exist in another reality. At any rate. Interesting read.

    Cheers! ^_^

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  7. I usually know a main character’s name around the time I introduce them. Sometimes I ask for help. Sometimes I just look at the keyboard and search for a letter that feels right, then hit the baby name sites.

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  8. Some names come to me more easily than others. The MC in my current WIP is Briella, which is a shortened version of a childhood friend of mine, but sometimes I shorten it even more in the story to Brie… an unusual way of spelling it for someone’s name, but she is a chef, so it seemed to fit.

    I love names, and I actually keep a journal of names I like, as well as surnames.

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  9. My characters’ name insinuate themselves on me. I don’t always like the names…but as I become more attached to my characters, their names grow on me. Being a writer is weird sometimes. What can I say?

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