Nomenclature A Go-Go

by John Caruso

Even though “that which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet,” it is difficult to deny a name can carry it’s own significance. You have an idea for a character. This character has certain traits, has his own resonance. If you give him a name that doesn’t fit that resonance, you will create dissonance. Of course, dissonance may be just what you’re after, and so the name is significant in the way it DOESN’T fit. If I may paint with broad, stereotypical, yet illustrative strokes for a moment, consider the salty sea captain who hates weakness in his crew. He probably wouldn’t be named Fauntleroy Fluffyton. A reader who is introduced to a character named Fauntleroy Fluffyton is going to expect a certain type of person. Chances are the salty-sea-captain-who-hates-his-sniveling-crew is not that type…unless vile cap’n Fauntleroy HATES his name and has worked to develop a persona that goes against type. An illustration of this kind of dissonance can be seen in Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue.”

While main characters have the luxury of an entire story to live up to (or away from) their names, minor characters need to be introduced and defined rather quickly. One of the easiest ways to achieve this is through his or her name. A woman named “Bubbles” or a man named “Stinky” evokes immediate images. However, too many names that are obvious, obscure or against type begin to get in the way of your story telling. The names begin to stand out, jarring the reader, putting focus on your WRITING rather than your STORY. Similarly, avoiding too many names that sound too much alike will be helpful to your reader. A story with a Laura, Lorry, Lori, Lorna, and Lena can quickly become confusing.

And then there’s titling a story. Does “The Killer and the FBI Agent” sound as intriguing as “The Silence of the Lambs?” “Shark Attack” rather than “Jaws?” “The Wacky Fairies and the Foolish Mortals” instead of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream?” No. Therefore, when you select a title for your story, give it some thought. A good title will be intriguing. It will relate to the story. It will be pithy and punchy.

When you select a name, you are in control. Remember, names are quite personal. They may be a point of pride for some or a mark of shame for others. Sometimes, they reveal an ethnic or cultural background. Sometimes, names are bland and necessary. But ultimately, YOU have the final say. You name your characters; you name your stories. You begin to define by naming.

© 2003 by John Caruso

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