Tuesday, January 27, 2015

That Which we Call a Rose

A recent birthday present was a reusable shopping bag with my name on it.  As a sales gimmick the manufacturer had included a couple of character traits associated with the name.  According to my shopping bag, Alice is determined and successful.  I'm not surprised.  Whether my character is predicted by my name, by zodiac sign or the length of my big toe, the outcome is the same.  I am determined, persevering, hard-working . . .  I find the consistency among soothsayers remarkable.  Is there something to my name?  Has it determined my character?  Is the length of my big toe really significant to my marriage?
    Mostly, I ignore the character tags attached to my name, but when I begin a new story I spend a lot of time deciding on the perfect name for my hero/heroine. Shakespeare notwithstanding, for me, as an author, there is a great deal to a name.   Can I have a hero named Stinky?  A kick-ass heroine called Barbie?   
    Putting names to my characters is one of the most difficult, yet critical first steps when I begin a new story.  If I can't find the name that works, it's hard for me to get a handle on the character, especially the romantic hero.  For some reason, I just can't get excited about Tom, Dick and Harry, despite such models as Tom Jones, Dick Tracy and Prince Harry.
     I want the name of my hero to be memorable to my story.  Hence, no Rhett or D'Arcy in my work.  A glance at my family tree isn't much help since it shows a preponderance of Wilhelm's and Gustav's.  For me Willy and Gus work as sidekick names, but not the hero.
      Romance novels are notorious for featuring heros with unlikely names like Stud, Thorn or Blitz.   Sorry, I'm more likely to giggle than swoon when that character comes on the page. 
I want my character to have  a real name -- one a loving mother would bestow on her baby.
     Jo Beverley once gave a workshop to my local chapter where she talked about the sound of certain names and what they implied about character.  A name with lots of soft consonants like "L" or "M" might suggest weakness, whereas hard consonants like "K" or "D" denoted strength.  Of course, Jo is writing about dukes and viscounts so that opens up a whole other range of name possibilities.
        Ancestry comes into my choice of name for the hero as well,  i.e. should the name be Welsh or Scandinavian or Biblical?  I'll also check out the meanings of a name for hints of character traits that might round out my hero's personality.  I also like to check the popular baby names of the time and place where my hero was born.  Cody sounds like a western hero, whereas Devlin sounds like a regency rake.  Switch them around, and they don't ring true.
   All this  mulling over a name may seem like a waste of time, but it lets me think about my character, to delve into his background, discern his fears and desires, turn him into a real person.  In the end I hope to give him a name that reflects his personality, is memorable and unique -- and not hard to pronounce.  I hate reading a book where I stumble over the character's name at every pass!
   As to my own name, I must discount the soothsayers (or marketing gurus) and turn instead to Psalms   In Psalm 139, David declares that "God formed him in his mother's womb, that God has known his inmost being forever."  
    If I am determined, it is because God made me that way long before I was even born.  In fact, my mother had picked a different name for me.  Only when I lay in her arms, did she decide on Alice.  It's not my name that formed me, it is God who "has searched me and known me ... who knows my thoughts from afar off ... and is acquainted with all my ways."

  What about you?  Does your name reflect your character?  As writers do you agonize over choosing the perfect name for your hero?  
 Alice Valdal lives in beautiful British Columbia, Canada.  She is stuck in her current wip, but she has finished an intricate lace-knit scarf that has garnered lots of compliments..  Visit her at  www.alicevaldal.com or at  facebook.com/#!/alice.valdal.5

Published Books.



  1. Oh yes--naming characters very important. I try to avoid using names beginning with the same letter because I find that confuing when other writers do so. My mother named me Donna because it means "Lady" and forever told me, "Be a lady,' "Ladies don't do that." I can still hear her voice and I smile. BTW our son married a young woman whose last name was Rose--another reason for my fondness for that flower.

    1. "Mother's voice in my head" Ain't that the truth! I'm glad most of what my mother repeats in my memory is good advice and loving words. :-)

  2. I agree completely! And it's interesting how people will change their own names (or their nickname) to go with their own personality. I have always preferred being called, 'Jenn', and only let my husband call me, 'Jenny', because I know the tone behind that voice. But whenever I need to be taken seriously, such as when running our company, I call myself, 'Jennifer'. Regardless, I always agonize over character names. And isn't it funny how the wrong name can throw you off while you're reading?

    1. Wow, Jenn! Great example. Jenny doesn't not sound like CEO material to me, whereas Jennifer has gravitas. Must remember to check likely nicknames when considering character names.

  3. I guess we all work hard at this. I had a nasty character I'd named Cordelia but it didn't sit right. I changed her into Cornelia and she came alive in all her meanness. I also had a character who hated his first name, so I stuck him with his surname all through.

  4. Amazing what one letter can do. I completely agree that CorDelia sounds too nice to be a villain, but CorNelia was born nasty. I love hearing what others have done with character names.

  5. There are too sisters in our church, Emily and Jennifer. Only problem is that Emily looks exactly like my concept of a Jennifer (straight, dark brown hair and a no nonsense attitude) and Jennifer has the sweet smile and blond curls I associate with an Emily. I'm forever getting them mixed up. Now if they were Em and Jenny perhaps I could keep them straight.

  6. I wonder how we get our concept of the character behind the name? Childhood friends? books? The rhythm of the syllables? There must be something to the name thing or authors wouldn't agonize over them. :--)