Thursday, May 10, 2018

What's In a Name?

Janice L. Dick | @JaniceDick54

Recently, I came across a Facebook post from a friend of mine. She wrote: (names have been changed) My name is Lorianne, not Lorraine. There were a couple more additions from readers: My name is Caroline, not Carolyn. My name is Wayne, not Dwayne. I added my own: My name is Janice, not Janet. (I have a dear friend and a cousin named Janet, but that is not my name.) 

As a writer, I try to choose the perfect names for my characters. We all have preconceived ideas of names due to people in our lives or our past, so we won’t please everyone, but we need to try to find just the right fit in a name. 

One unwritten rule I’ve tried to follow is to not use two names that sound or look too similar. For instance, Ben and Bob. Or Jill and Jen. It confuses the reader, and there are lots of names to choose from, so we can branch out. 

I recently read a cozy mystery (Capital Obsessionby Emily James) where one of the main characters is named Ahanti. Her detective friend knows the name means “gift,” which proves to be a clue to the mystery.  

Names are important. Some are strong (Thor!), some are sweet (Bessie). Some names suit certain genres or historical times (Phoebe, Penelope, Cassandra), or languages/cultures (Dietrich, Bjorn). Some names are timeless (Michael, Elizabeth, Katherine, Thomas). I often go to name lists on the internet for my ethnic characters. Reading down a list can offer fresh and credible options. 

Every once in a while, I goof. For the first book in my current series, I choose the name Magdalena for one of my motherly characters. Her friends called her Magda. I also had someone I considered to be an insignificant young woman whom I had named Manya after a favorite aunt. It was all fine until the third book when Manya became very significant, and the names were much too similar. One option was to kill off Magda, but that felt somewhat petty. I decided to call her Magdalena as often as possible and trust my readers to sort out the rest. One of the challenges of writing a series.

As you can see, names are as important in fiction as they are in life. They help build pictures in our minds of who the characters are. We try to choose carefully to suit the genre, the style, the personality, the time period and ethnicity of our characters, because names set us apart from others. 

My name is Janice, not Janet. 
What’s yours?

Janice L. Dick is an award-winning author who writes from her rural home in Saskatchewan, Canada. She writes contemporary and historical fiction, blogs, book reviews, and inspirational articles. In September 2016, Janice became the first recipient of the prestigious Janette Oke award, presented by the InScribe Christian Writers’ Fellowship.

In 2016 Janice established her indie imprint: Tansy & Thistle Press: faith, fiction, forum, and has since released two more historical novels. Find out more at...

1 comment:

  1. Good points, Janice. It drives me crazy when an author gives several characters names starting with the same letter--especially when I'm reading on my Kindle and it's harder to look back. Not that I've never done that very thing myself, of course.