Friday, October 19, 2007

Many Are Called

Photo by Kusakabe Kimbei,

Names are important.

A kind of clumsy, social, snapshot DNA.

Writers hunt names, anguish over them, change them, re-spell them.

Writers search telephone directories, baby books, genealogical sites and spam for perfect names.

Whole websites are devoted to assist writers in their search.

Naturally, we want the creatures of our imagination to stand out from the crowd.

But, while some names look very pretty on the page, we should also give some thought to how they sound.

Some readers, routinely and automatically, verbalize all names in reading material.

And then there's the increasing popularity of audio books.

A name might appear visually attractive in print and sound totally ridiculous out loud, and the aural effect may dramatically contradict the mental associations we hope to suggest.

Break-teeth names may also cause difficulties for a narrator. Imagine the effect on the flow of the story should the speaker have to halt and take a deep breath before launching into a string of consonants and apostrophes.

We must be careful also with our choice of short-form nics and diminutives.

If you name your hero Clifford and shorten it to Cliff, don't -- forgawdssake -- give your heroine a lisp.

And consider the situations in your story where the names will be uttered, especially if you write hot, hot erotica -- so as not to elicit a confusion of giggles.

Particularly in scenes of passion.

Rip, oh Rip, she cried...


Or, since names like these seem to be ubiquitous in some sub-genres:

Hawk, oh Hawk, she cried...

Well, spit it out, lady.

There's more than one good reason for giving your WIP an audition.


Jaye Wells said...

All good points. I had to change the spelling of a character's name so people would pronounce it correctly. Reading out loud helps.

Church Lady said...

I had to change a character's name from "Sharon" to "Sara" because Sharon is now an outdated name.

Ric said...

Aren't we in rare form, this morning?

Very funny examples. THanks for the giggle.

Bernita said...

Indeed, it does, Jaye.
I think it was Starving who mentioned possible problems with ones like Iphigenia.

Generational styles are another factor to consider, Chris.
One probably shouldn't call a grandmother by a current popular name.

Glad you enjoyed them, Ric.

Robyn said...

Hee, hee. Stone, oh Stone, she cried! Pass it girl, pass it...

It's the Welsh/Gaelic names with ten consonants and one vowel that trip me up. If I can't pronounce it the story stops while I puzzle it out. At least the publisher can put the phonetic dictionary in the front of the book.

Bernita said...

Oh, geeze...
Good one, Robyn!
Someone should collect these inadvertents.

SzélsőFa said...

For me it was a surprise how many various names the English can come up with. Some people are named after names of months (April, June...I was wondering why, oh why July was misfortuned ?)

The protagonists of the project I'm working on had name, but I had to change it b/c I noticed I gave her the name of the writer whose book I was reading at the moment....

Charles Gramlich said...

I ran into this mistake in "Cold in the Light." The beings in that book are called "whoun." I meant it to sound like it rhymed with "wound." But quite a few people have read it as "who un." *wince*

moonrat said...

my mother, an avid mystery fan, gave up on elizabeth george entirely because protagonists tend to be named things like Mr. Goodman and the person who turns out to be the actual murder tends to be named something like Mr. Killingsly. sigh.

Lisa said...

Names are big for me when I read. I hate it when a writer uses names that are so common they bore me, and I don't like it when the names sound trendy or like they're trying too hard. I do like a character with an odd or unusual name, if there's a story behind it -- talking just contemporary realist fiction here. Naming characters is a fine art, I think.

Bernita said...

"why, oh why July was misfortuned?"
Szelsofa, probably because "Julia" satisfies.

The "phones" are becoming increasingly cellular, Charles.
I wonder if you had spelled it "whuyn" if they would still have elided the "wh" as "hoo"?

Done consistently, that sort of thing becomes a little too arch, Moonmouse.
2X4's, anyone?
On the other hand, I run close to that line with Lillie St. Clair - who's a clairvoyant of sorts.

Bernita said...

Lisa, I think you're absolutely right.

Sela Carsen said...

I wanted to name a character Agneta once because it sounded pretty in my head -- anyeta. Unfortunately, it looks awful on the page and I didn't dare take the chance of people calling the poor girl Agneeta. *shudder*

raine said...

"Dick, oh Dick," she cried...
(So sorry, but I couldn't resist...) ;-)

I'm laughing because I did the baby name book thing when I first started 'commercial' writing. And it's frightening what some people will inflict on their children.

One needs to be careful, too, that the names don't become like caricatures, especially if doing a series. I remember a soap opera from many years ago that just tickled me whenever I thought of it. All of the male characters had pseudo-Viking names, for some reason. There was Erik, and Thorn, and Ridge, etc. I was SO waiting for an Odin, or Baldur, or Loki...

Sam said...

I don't mind unusual names, but as a dyslexic, the effect can backfire. I'm sure the author who named her character Guly didn't mean me to think Ugly each time I read it. And faux Caltic names with apostrophes everywhere can confuse me too. F'nathm'gno T'uat will make me laugh instead of trying to sound it all out.
That said, I love discovering foreign names or unusal names.

Bernita said...

And you know some would have, Sela.
The a good point. The vice versa of looks good but sounds bad.

NO FUN if you resist temptation, Raine!
"And it's frightening what some people will inflict on their children"
And, further, never think about what they might sound like linked with ther surname.

Bernita said...

Dyslexic readers...never thought of that pitfall, Sam.

Gwen said...

Real life names are great fun, too. I have the joy of running across patients with very interesting names, though sometimes they're just silly bilingual puns, inadvertent of course.

I'm a bad person, laughing at names.

Carla said...

Historical fiction may have it comparatively easy on this one. There usually aren't that many names to choose from if you want to stay authentic. Though in some eras when everyone seemed to use the same small group of names, having to think of 14 variants on 'Joan' can be a challenge.

Lisa said...

Oh, gosh, I had to come back and relay this one. Many years ago a friend was in the hospital having just given birth. One of the other OB patients was there and wanted to name her baby Placenta, because she thought it sounded pretty. I hope to God someone talked her out of it. Of course, for years I've toyed with the idea of naming a character Placenta :)

Bernita said...

I think if I had to worry about translingual puns for my character's names I would go quietyly mad, Gwen.

Generalogical sites come in handy there, Carla, especially for all the spelling variations( Alice/Alys, for example.)
Once, reading some roll or t'other I was momentarily stumped by "Hu."

Thank heavens, Lisa, there are provisions for change of name.

Gwen said...

I had to come back. A coworker just showed me a referral with the doctor's name Dr. Amater (then a reasonable lastname). Oh no!

And Bernita, I don't mean writers need to worry about other languages, too! Unless their characters speak them, of course.

Scott from Oregon said...

"Oh Noah! Oh Noah!" she cried.
"Oh yes," he isisted.

writtenwyrdd said...

I've noticed a few of these on EE's site and cringed. I also think it worth mentioning that you need to think about spelling it so the readers will (usually) manage to pronounce it the way you wish them to.

Bernita said...

"Dr. Amater?" Dear me.

I hate to think what you might do with "Bob," Scott.

Yup, Written, spelling definitely affects the phoenics.

Ello said...

Loved that about Cliff and a lisp! Kept thinking Elmer J Fudd, be vewy vewy quiet, we're hnting wabbits...

Bernita said...

Thank you, Ello.

I hope never to stumble upon a piece of erotica, however, in which the hero's name is "Ryder."

kmfrontain said...

LOL. I have Omos of the Ether, who is "almost" of the Ether, or homos of the Ether. But then, I like being twisted about anything, including my name choices. Anyhow, throw out the puns and Omos still sounds nice. ;-)

Someone mention Bob? There's a doctor in Canada who does cosmetic surgery for sexual anatomy. His name is Robert Stubbs. Waaah haa haa! I'm not kidding.

Bernita said...

Karen, as long as readers aren't hit over the head with the thing, I suspect they like such side-slip associations. I know I do.

The coincidence in real life of people with "fitting" names is enjoyable.
A fellow charged with kicking out the back window of a police car, for example - surname "Mule."
A dog case tried by "Judge Bark."
I have a bird book - one of the editors is surnamed "Robin."

archer said...

Also you can never end a character's name with an "s" because it screws up the possessives. Not to mention the plurals if she gets, you know, cloned or something.

kmfrontain said...

LOL, Archer. :-D

cyn said...

excellent post, as always, bernita. and relating to me specifically as i just finally changed my heroine's name in the novel this week. it's doubly hard coming up with chinese names which aren't too strange to the english-speaking reader. i think the names may still be "foreign", but i'm opting not to use "snow flower" or such right now. i prefer the chinese version. we'll see what agents/editors think when the time comes.

writtenwyrdd said...

I cannot tell you how many times I've seen doctor or other medical practitioners with unfortunate names. Like an orthopedist names Bonecracker.

I have a friend who is a doc, however; and her name is named Martha Stewart. Not sure what joke to make of that one...

kirsten saell said...

My sister's fertility specialist is Dr. Cumming. Bleh.

We also have a guy in our town named Harry Hole. If that's not bad enough, his wife's name is Petunia. When you print out her visa slip, she comes up as Mrs. P. Hole. Ugh.

Went to highschool with a poor fellow named Curtis Hunt. They used to joke he "fell down and hurt his," well, you can guess the rest.

I know another guy named Pat Decker. Guess his parents never bothered to switch initial consonants, either.

Placenta takes the cake though. To be made fun of all your life for being the "ugly twin." Ew.

spyscribbler said...

Hah! You made me laugh out loud with "Rip, oh Rip, she cried..."

I hate those apostrophe names. I verbalize, too, and I never know how my mind is to pronounce them. I used to see them a lot in fantasy and science fiction. I hope that still isn't the case?

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I absolutely adore two of my protag's names: Aidan and Kaelin. The one with the girly name, Kaelin, is this guy who takes himself waaaay too seriously. His twin Aidan calls him Kae pretty often. Kaelin hates it, but Aidan does it anyway--a sort of: "I'm not that impressed by you, but I do love you enought to give you a special nickname" statement.

No one else in their right mind would dare call Kaelin Kae or any other sort of nickname.

I love picking names for my characters.

Another guy, Sean Kelly, was a missed opportunity for love.

The Anti-Wife said...

Some names stop me on the page because my brain just can't figure out how to pronounce them. It distracts from the story and I find this very annoying. What's wrong with names like Bob, Sue, Jack, Mary, Pat, Steve, or any other common and easily pronouncable name?

Another great post! Thanks!

Bernita said...

Like Ross, Archer?

Thank you, Cyn.
I'm sure yout final choice of name will be both appropriate and pretty.

Very true, Written.
One of the points where fiction has to be more careful than fact.

Oh, the limericks those names suggest, Kirsten.

Probably still going strong, Natasha, in spite of criticism.

SS, there's great satisfaction in finding just the tight name.

Thank you, AW.
Special names for special characters may be expected, but every single character in a novel doesn't have to have one.

Kate S said...

This was so funny and so true. All throughout my current WIP I have things like:
"Stop," COOL CENTAUR NAME said. And:
"He's a member of BAD GUY GROUP."

They're all in caps because I haven't come up with just the right names yet, and I'll need to be able to find those places easily when it comes time to change them.

So... any suggestions for cool sounding centuar names? :) I almost named the hero Kieron as a take on Chiron, but it sounds too much like Karen.

And side note to Charles: I'm one of the idiots who wondered why in the world did you name the bad guys "Who Un"? Glad to know it was meant to be something else, and not southern slang. ;)

Bernita said...

Kate, you might get your hands on a Latin-English dictionary, looks up a quality which might fit the character and morph a name out of it.
Or simply find a list of Greek given names and fiddle with them.

Kate S said...

Oh, great suggestions, thanks. I'll see if our library has a dictionary like that.

Right now one of the words I've been using as a filler (as a term for special types of mates) is the Spanish word for couple, but I want something that people won't immediately recognize.

Chumplet said...

Remember that popular song in the 70's, Candida? It always makes me think of a yeast infection.

I like to mix and match names of co-workers and my zillions of relatives. They're always pleased to see their names in print, knowing that they inspired them.

The villians... well, that's another matter.

Vesper said...

Interesting as always, Bernita. Very good points - and funny too! Thank you.

Bernita said...

Right on, Chumplet!
And in this house we have the irrepressible habit of referring to the clematis by the garden gate as - the chlamydia...

Thank you, Vesper.
I visited your part of the world this weekend - marche Jean-Talon.