Wednesday, March 13, 2013

What's in a Name?

August 9, 2011

During my recent reading of Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead I started thinking about the importance of character names.  In particular, the name Vic Willing stuck with me.  Was this character a “willing victim” or was there another, deeper connotation?  The same held true for the title character, Claire DeWitt (clarity of wits?).

All this left me pondering the significance of character names.  Some are so subtly crafted that we don’t even notice it.  Every name is evocative.  Don’t we all remember this from analyzing literature in high school?  I recall discussing the significance of the name Miss Havisham from Dickens’ Great Expectations – how her life has become a sham of its former glory, how her young love had been a sham, etc.  I’m sure other interpretations exist, but I remember that one from my junior year English class.  Consequently, I’ve been looking a little closer at character names lately.

Names can clue a reader into whether a character is plain, exotic, rich, poor, educated, bold, or beautiful.  They breathe life into a character even before actions reveal that character’s deeper makeup.  Sometimes author’s create a name that evokes a character trait, like Emma Sharpe in Carla Negger’s Saint’s Gate.  This character is “sharp” as in clever.   How about Jesse Stone?  Doesn’t that name make you think of him as hard, immovable, a rock of a man?

Names can be so important to creating a memorable character yet they must not be so overt as to be annoying.  I can’t stand it when a name is blatant.   They require a certain subtly.  If not handled carefully, they can become a parody and a distraction.  However, when crafted carefully, they add another dimension to the character and the story.  An excellent example of this skill is apparent throughout the Harry Potter series.  I love the name Draco Malfoy, how it connotes nastiness and malcontent.  It’s perfect, like so many other names Rowling crafted.  She is a master at creating a name that IS a character unto itself.

So, my question to you is, what are some of your favorite character names and why?  Or, conversely, what are some of the worst?

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