Sunday, December 11, 2016
NAME THAT TUNE er—CHARACTER by Karla Stover
Have you ever been introduced to someone whose name doesn’t seem to work? When something about the combination of first and last names doesn’t sound good together? I have and it’s jarring. I went to school with a John John and in yesterday's obituaries here were a Thomas Thompson and a Bob Olive. All I can say is, “Why?” For writers, characters’ names should be as important as they are to prospective parents. A good name gives a character hint. Due diligence is required.
I rooted through Google and came up with some interesting articles. For example: according to the website Livescience.com, the most hated boy’s names in America are Jayden, Brayden, Hayden, Aiden, Kayden, Madison and Addison, and Nevaeh is the name most “likely to put people’s teeth on edge.” Nevaeh is what is known as a trope—that is, “a concept audiences will recognize and understand instantly.” A trope can be a plot trick, a setup, a narrative or linguistics structure or, in this case, a character type because Nevaeth is heaven spelled backwards. The name was non-existent in the 1990s but came into popularity in 2003.
The most disliked girl’s names are Mackenzie, McKenna and Makayla. Makayla sounds made up--as though the bearer came from a low-income family or one of low socioeconomic status. It’s a good trope for a writer but might well handicap the possessor’s future.
People also don’t like names which imply virtue, such as Destiny and Hope or those that hint at violence, such as Hunter. Michael is considered boring and Bentley smacks of being a brand name.
Mystery writer, Elizabeth Sims, has seven rules for chose characters’ names:
1. Check the root meanings. For example, Theodore means “gift of God.” Book buyers are smart.
2. Get your era right. The TV show, Dynasty may have given us the name Crystal (Krystle) but it wasn’t common before then.
3. Say them out loud or use a test-to-speech software service such as Readplease to hear how a name sounds. Readplease has a free version.
4. Manage your cast by using names of varying syllables and which start with different letters.
5. Alliteration can be useful but should be used sparingly; consider Severus Snape.
6. Be sure foreign names and a character’s nationality match.
Other tips: avoid names that are awkward in the possessive form, such as Ross, or have a spelling that will trick Word’s spellcheck; names can tell the reader something about the character; be consistent, i.e. use the name or the nickname but don’t jump back and forth; avoid middle names. There might be many Karla Stover(s) but one person with the name, Karla Ann Stover could sue.
The website, Be-a-better-writer.com suggests using a name generator, which I did. For men, I got Victor Cancel, Connor Lilly, and Alfred Charm. Suggested names for women included, Harper Rekdal, Lolita Adams, and Kennedy Avignone. Yikes! Those are just wrong.