Saturday, March 27, 2010

What's In a Name?

I spend much time naming my characters in my stories. I often change names in the middle of writing a story thinking that a new name matches a character better. Is this a bad thing? I don't know, but I've heard all kinds of things about naming characters in stories - and every opinion is stated in such a way that makes me feel like I'm committing some unforgivable sin if I don't stay steadfast in my character names.

Let's face it, sometimes a name just doesn't fit a character once they've developed within a story as it did at the beginning. I've been working on the same stupid story for a number of years and was losing interest until I changed the first name of my main character. I began the story with the main character named "Magan." The first thing someone said to me about the name was: "I don't think that's how to spell that name." How did they know how I should spell the name? I became stubborn and kept the name just for spite.

Eventually though, the thought crept into my head that the person making the statement might have been, at least, partially correct. If a reader has issue with something as simple as a name, they may find it difficult to accept it and go on to read the story. I changed the main character's name to "Katherine" and doors began to open like street lights turning green in succession on a long street.

First, my character comes from a predominantly Irish-Catholic family, so it would make since that her name would be Katherine. With the name beginning in the letter "K" I was able to give her the nickname of "Kat." Her full name is Katherine Anne McKendry. See how I've already become comfortable with the name as I talk of her in present tense? The new name fits her developing personality better.

In another story I'm currently working on, the main character's name is "Azra" Someone in a critique group asked me, "isn't Azra a man's name? I responded with a no. The name Azra is very old dating back to Mesopotamian times. In Islamic culture, the name Azra means "Maiden" or "Virgin." I think it fit well since my main character in this story is a Succubus searching for love as mortals know it. Her hero's name is "Raif" meaning "protector of virtue" in the same culture.

I know that most readers would not pay that much attention to names but I do. It means something to me and helps me understand the personality or background of my named character. So, for those of you that might take an interest in this sort of thing, it might be good to consider your character's names carefully, and have fun with them.