I was having breakfast in Shipshewana, Indiana when I heard the news about Britain’s newest royal. Another woman, a stranger to me, entered the communal dining room just as the television report came to an end, but she heard enough to ask us the questions others asked already: Boy, or a girl? Oh, a boy. Too bad. I would have liked the first baby under the new law to be a girl, letting her reign since she’d be the oldest.
The next question followed quickly after: What did they name him?
As of today we’re still waiting to hear what they decide to call him, but it reminded me how much thought we give to names—or at least, should. The royals have a long history to consider, knowing the world will be watching this little guy grow up and give a whole new personality to whatever name they choose.
I think authors must learn to be experts on name-choosing, especially prolific authors who create lots of characters. We might search lists of popular names by decade, such as the one posted above. We might go the ethnic route and search popular names by custom or country. I recently came across my mother’s yearbook (1930s) and chose several names for my newest project from there. Eventually it’s hard to keep coming up with names we haven’t used before.
An author has a sort of vision or hope for how certain characters will emerge in their story, and sometimes a name pops into mind that fits from conception. Other characters grow into their name. Still others demand a name change once their story is underway, because they’ve done things that just don’t fit our original vision. In real life this might mean someone could be tagged with a nickname that more closely reflects a personality than the name on their birth certificate. I’ve also changed many character names because another character name has a similar sound or even just first letter and it’s near fatal to confuse readers with names that are too alike.
When I read a book I love, the names become symbols of the character. What else could Scarlett and Rhett have been called, except Scarlett and Rhett?
Just a thought for today about how important names really are — in life, and in books!