Right name brings power to characters in booksA lot of you know that, besides being the co-mistress of Nameberry, I’m a novelist. In fact, my new book, “The Possibility of You,” was recently released. While writing about names and writing historical fiction are often very different enterprises, there are times when my worlds collide. Like when it’s time to name my characters.
By: Pamela Redmond Satran nameberry.com (MCT), INFORUM
A lot of you know that, besides being the co-mistress of Nameberry, I’m a novelist. In fact, my new book, “The Possibility of You,” was recently released.
While writing about names and writing historical fiction are often very different enterprises, there are times when my worlds collide. Like when it’s time to name my characters.
For some fiction writers, character naming might be a minor consideration, somewhere above comma placement but far below such elements as title and voice and what the characters eat for dinner.
Not so for me, of course, with the character’s name being his or her most important defining characteristic. In my view, the character’s name contains a kind of DNA code for who they are and where they come from, what they value and how they hope to change.
Sometimes, this all-important name comes easily, as with Bridget’s name in “The Possibility of You.” I didn’t have to think at all about that one. My grandmother’s life was the first inspiration for the book, and her real name was Bridget.
But while choosing Bridget was easy, the name contained a lot of complex messages for my character and for the grandmother who inspired her. My grandmother’s family had no idea that her name was Bridget until she died, for instance, when we found her birth certificate. She’d always called herself Bea, or sometimes Beatrice, or sometimes Bertha, and was mysterious about how and why she got to have so many different names.
By the time we learned my grandmother’s real name was Bridget, we weren’t able to ask her why she’d hidden that fact or why she’d changed it.
My contemporary heroine Cait has an awkward version of her name, but the awkwardness is deliberate. Cait’s adoptive parents chose Caitlin, a name that always felt too bland and which she shortened to the more dashing and determined Cait. The unusual spelling suggests the character’s own sense of standing apart from the crowd.
Maude, the book’s anti-heroine, was only ever Maude, which has always felt like the perfect name for her character. Vintage with an undernote of seaminess, the name Maude to me suggests someone who’s stuck in the past.
My contemporary hero, Martin, is named after an old friend of my husband’s and mine, mostly because I wanted to name the character after the writer Michael Cunningham, whose novel “The Hours” so inspired my book, but ended up deciding that Michael was too uninspired a name.
And my very favorite name in the book is Jupiter, Jupe for short, who is from an African-American family with a long lineage dating back to slave days when such grand mythological names were common among blacks. The name Jupe made the character down-to-earth.
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