The author of Sunset Beach (2009) and Beach Dreams (2008), Trish Perry lives in Northern Virginia with her hilarious teenaged son. She discovered her love of writing while earning a degree in Psychology. She switched career paths in 1997 and never looked back. Her debut novel, The Guy I’m Not Dating, placed second in the 2007 FHL Inspirational Readers’ Choice Contest, and her second novel, Too Good to Be True, finaled in the 2008 FHL IRCC, the GRW Maggie Awards, and LCRW’s Barclay Gold Awards.
YOU NAMED YOUR CHARACTER WHAT?
John Doe Doesn’t Know How Good He Has It
Charles Dickens was one of the best at it. All of us fiction writers labor (at least a little) over it. Shakespeare’s Juliet shrugged it off: “What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Yeah, maybe, Juliet, but we fiction writers think the wrong name can stink up a character’s image if we don’t get it right. If we want our heroine to be soft and frilly, we’re not likely to name her Gert, and if we want our hero to be super macho, chances are he won’t be answering to “Leslie” anytime soon.
So how come normal people don’t always figure that out? Names matter!
Personally, I wanted my daughter to grow up cute, sharp-witted, and spunky. I named her Stevie. Not Stephanie, with Stevie as a nickname. Just “Stevie,” right there on the birth certificate. And guess what? She grew up cute, sharp-witted, and spunky. Part of that outcome is due to the sound of her name and how people react to it.
Now, Judge Rob Murfitt of the New Zealand Family Court agrees with me—names matter. When he came across a nine-year-old girl whose totally whacked-out parents named her Talula-Does-The-Hula, he stepped in and helped the poor child. Really, what were those parents smoking? Did they not love their daughter more than anything in the world?
Judge Murfitt made Talula-Does-The-Hula a ward of the court so he could change her name. The poor kid had spent her entire life telling people to call her “K,” just so she wouldn’t have to tell them her real name.
Other cruel monikers Judge Murfitt cited included Fish-and-Chips, Yeah Detroit, Violence, and Number-16-Bus-Shelter. Can you
imagine if Number-15-Bus-Shelter were enrolled at the same school as Number-16? How confusing might that be?
In my research efforts for this story, I found two Chinese parents who named their son @. And another New Zealand couple named their child 4Real. When refused that name, they named the child Superman. One can only hope the child was male.
I mean, really. Can you imagine any publisher accepting your proposal for a love story between characters named Doctor-It-Hurts-When-I-Do-This and Pack-A-Sack-Lunch? Are we writers simply more sensitive to the image evoked by peoples’ names?
I don’t usually offer actual writing tips in this column, but I’d like to share some excellent sources for finding character names. Some of these sites even give meanings, which is an added bonus. You wouldn’t want to name your character Ciceron without knowing you’re calling him a chickpea.
So, give these sites a gander the next time you’re stuck for a character name:
I would hope we’re savvy enough to avoid the sources used by the above-mentioned parents. No menus. No sports rosters or bus depots. No e-mail addresses, for goodness’ sake. And the next time you meet someone who goes by a single initial, be kind. You may actually be talking with Zsa-Zsa-Rocks-the-Cha-Cha.