Juliet whispered, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
As writers, we often search for the right name to embody the soul of our character. The right fit is so elusive.
Would the story smell as sweet or be as powerful or as frightening with a different name—the wrong name?
The name Krueger comes from German and means maker or seller of stoneware mugs and jugs. There is nothing frightening about the name per se, but if you add Freddy before it, it may bring goose bumps—at least for anyone who has seen the Nightmare on Elm Street films. The name instills fear, not because it is terrifying, but because the story makes it powerful.
In other cases, the name defines the character. Think about Cruella de Vil, the beastly nemesis of the 101 Dalmatians. What kind of woman would kill puppies to create a black and white fur coat? Only a cruel devil.
Dr. Jekyll’s name conveys status and intellect—something superior to the common man, but Mr. Hyde is the hidden dastardly side of every man.
Often the name represents the character as he or she is. In Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman Capote gives his main character a name that is youthful and ever green (Holly) as well as carefree, especially with regards to her relationships (Golightly). Similarly, Dolores Umbridge from the Harry Potter series represents a sad oppressor, despite her cheerful pink clothing and her cloying demeanor.
Some names act as both aptronym and antonym. Harry Potter represents the common boy. Every child can identify with his struggles and his anonymity among the Dursleys. Yet, he proves himself the opposite in the wizarding world. He is exceptionally brave, known by all, and capable of defeating the world’s most malevolent wizard.
Names can also foreshadow destiny. In Catch-22, Major Major Major rises quickly to the rank of major, but advances no farther. Luke Skywalker was never meant to be a land-locked moisture farmer like his uncle Lars. He was destined to travel among the stars. A maverick archer who steals from the rich and gives to the poor might have a name that sounds similar to robber or hoodlum. And a middle-class Jewish family living in Chicago—Jami Attenberg named them the Middlesteins. How apropos.
It makes you wonder would the literary world be the same if Fitzgerald had titled his masterpiece, “The Good Gatsby?”
So the next time you decide to put pen to paper—or fingers to keys—to create the next great character in literature, devote the time necessary to find (or create) the right moniker for your characters. What's in a name? Everything.
About John Mattox
I'm a writer with a measurement problem. It's a good problem to have, but let me explain...
Ever since I was a kid, I've been writing. Mostly fiction. But my love of psychology took me to graduate school and I learned to write scholarly papers. I also learned statistics and have made a career of applying them in corporate universities to evaluate the effectiveness of training. So as a professional, I've fostered my love for psychology, statistics and writing. In 2014 I was fortunate enough to publish my first book, Predictive Analytics for Human Resources, with a guru in the HR industry, Jac Fitz-enz.
I welcome the chance to write more articles and books about learning and talent analytics.
Now is the time for me to realize my own natural obsession--writing fiction and sharing my craft with others. You can find my first novel atwww.thirteenbrotherpirates.com and my blog at www.writers-ryno.blogspot.com.
A Writer's Tale
Scarlett Van Dijk
Writer of young adult, fantasy series, the Sky Stone series, poetry and short stories.
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