Brain Splat & ABC’s – The Art of Naming Characters
I think there is a real skill in picking the correct name to use for the people and places that make up a story, after all the right name can tell you a lot about a character.
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Some authors base whole books around one central protagonist or location, so getting the right name is vital. Names have to appeal and unless a name is deliberately chosen not to reflect personality or stature, it should present a depiction of the character to the reader. If anyone has ever read any of the Jack Reacher books by Lee Child you’ll know what I mean. Jack can be quite harsh and gritty sounding due to the hard consonant ending and these are traits the character often displays. His surname Reacher can easily help to reinforce the characters physical attributes and the lack of a middle name brings to life the idea of no middle ground representing the characters often black or white, right or wrong view of the world. I don’t know if these are things the author intended but as a reader they are certainly things that come to my mind when I’m reading the books. Now take these things into account and try imagining the character with a different name. It’s hard isn’t it? Let’s say for example, he’d been called Theodore Watkins, I just don’t think people would be able to picture the character in the same way. Side note – if anyone called Theodore Watkins is reading this, no offence intended I like the name.
I imagine the importance I’m attaching to picking the right name for a character is probably why, at times, it can be so hard to find the name that feels right and accurately conveys the feeling for the character I want to put across. Maybe I’m wrong and I’m possibly over thinking things but, if there’s one thing that can really stop me in my tracks, it’s the art of naming characters. I know a lot of names and I can even make them up if needs be, in fact for some of my particular literary efforts the average run of mill name just won’t do. Often I end up mashing words and letters together in an effort to hit naming gold. This one task can have me howling with despair or whooping with delight.
Alf just won’t do
Just the other day I was sat writing away, my fingers were flying across the keyboard and I was in full flow. Words and storylines were zooming onto the screen in front of me like a herd of lemmings heading for the edge of the cliff, then BAM! I came crashing to a stop in full on episode of complete and total brain splat (my little phrase for when my brain downs tools and refuses to cooperate). Safe to say the lemmings had jumped off the cliff and my brain represented lemming remains at the bottom of the said cliff.
I now have two choices, either I force my uncooperative little brain into doing my bidding which is to think up a really great name for the character I’ve just created, or I could stop take a break and come back refreshed in a few minutes when hopefully a name would just fall into place. The reality is I did neither, I just stared at my screen like a child, watching a balloon float away with big staring eyes and mouth hanging open in shock. This was bad, I was nearing the point of giving up for the day when ping, a name popped into my head. Eureka! I’m back in the game I thought, but then wait hang on no, Alf is really not the name I was looking for. Alf just won’t do.
I couldn’t believe it, of all the names I could have thought of, was Alf really the best I could do? Don’t get me wrong there’s nothing wrong with the name Alf, especially if you’re describing an older Yorkshire gentleman or his little terrier dog, but it doesn’t really go with the whole epic journey/adventure theme I was going for. Can you imagine it, The Adventures of Alf – A Journey into the Unexpected. Not really what I was looking for, come to think of it neither was Wayne, Courtney or Britney but that’s pretty much the next 3 names my brain churned out, it was like I was picking names from a bad soap opera. I suspect at this point my brain was laughing manically at its own genius like a super villain in a Disney movie. Quite annoyingly the next couple of names I managed to come up with were hero’s from other well-known books and films, I’m pretty sure people might notice and react rather negatively to a second Harry Potter or Rocky.
Back to the A, B, C
At this point I’m really questioning if I even like writing, I mean this naming lark was becoming pretty darn stressful. However after a mini panic, I reasoned with myself, once I got beyond this current mini blockage I would be able to get back in the groove and the words would be flowing again. The question is how do I come up with a name I’m happy with? I’m sure everyone that’s ever written a piece of fiction would have their own take on how to solve this particular conundrum, I realized that for me the best way to solve the issue was to go back and start with A, B, C. I started at A and just said the first name that came into my head (after Alf) then onto B, C and so on and so forth. Then when I hit upon a name that felt nearly right, I wrote it down a few times, adding bits on the end or changing the beginning each time until finally, I had a name I was happy with that I felt would suit the character in question. I even found by using this method I hit upon a nickname, so in the process of choosing a name I ended up creating another side to the character just through the use of name.
When I explain it like that, written down, it sounds like it took me absolutely ages, when actually the whole process probably only took about 10 minutes. I’ve used the exact same process a good few times now, though admittedly I did once get all the way to Z before any inspiration hit. The more I do it though the quicker it gets and the chances of experiencing full on brain splat are decreasing (at least when it comes to names). So there you have it, my naming woes and my magic method for generating character names and halting brain splat.
However a word of caution for anyone who might decide to use this method, don’t start singing the ABC’s song in a high pitched child like voice! Sure its fun but I didn’t really find it was any help when trying to give a name to a tough, muscular, street wise character who would look upon that type of song with disdain. It’s also kind of catchy and you might find yourself singing it all day long unintentionally.
Oh and no I can’t reveal the name I came up with, sorry!