Tuesday, March 30, 2021



What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet

From Romeo & Juliet by Shakespeare


        What’s in a name?

        Actually, a lot. (Sorry, Juliet)


Depending on the type of story, character names can be allegorical, (rife with meaning alluding to their function, such as in biblical narratives) a play on class and setting, (think of just about any romance story) or a tickle to the funny bone.


There is overlap in these naming categories. I think Dickens played on the humorous as well as class distinctions. J. K. Rowling does the same with some of her characters. But no matter the intention, the effect is for a name to be evocative.


There are times where a story doesn’t call for strong and piercing name choices. But I would never waste the storyteller’s opportunity to make a tale come alive with banal choices like Dick and Jane, which, come to think of it, may have been chosen specifically for a banal effect. They are “every girl and every boy,” I suppose. Not characters in the sense writers aspire to create.


Some choices are personal, as in a grandma writing a story using her grandkids' names. As such, they are fine for self-publishing home consumption. I’ve written short stories using the names of my nearest and dearest, which have meaning to me only. But from some years’ distance, I can see that for general audiences I have wasted the opportunity to layer every word by not choosing in a writerly way.


So back to Juliet: Love who you love, my sweet, and let your names not keep you apart. But for certain know that William Shakespeare chose your names with care.


Sue said...


Vijaya said...

Naming my characters has been such a joy for me. I always think of the meaning and whether it fits my characters. A name has power. My favorite character of all time is Joy in Bound, even though it's Rebecca who tells the story. But Max and Dagny make a regular appearance too. So fun.

Evelyn said...

Good points.

My complaint about names in a novel is when the author chooses names that are too similar, starting with the same letter, and I have to keep going back to check which was which.

Mirka Breen said...

Right to your point, Evelyn-- my first editor to THE VOICE OF THUNDER told me I had to change one of the siblings' names. Originally they were Gili and Gadi. She had the same concern you expressed. I kept Gili, and Gadi became Adi.

Sherry Ellis said...

It's fun selecting just the right name for your characters. I wonder how long it took Shakespeare to select Romeo and Juliet.