Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What's In A Name?

      What's in a name? Well, a lot, actually. The names that you choose for your characters are really important, these names will eventually help define your character.
      There are some names that have become a symbol for something that the author may or may not have originally intended for it. A name that has become symbolic is Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens’ classic story, A Christmas Carol. It is interesting because in the original story, people who behaved like Scrooge were very common so the story had even more of a meaning then than it does now. Nowadays, the name ‘Scrooge’ has become almost a synonym for someone who doesn’t have any Christmas spirit.
      There are other names that have become symbolic such as Robin Hood, Romeo and Juliet, Lolita, Achilles, Holden Caulfield, Jay Gatsby, and Uncle Tom. Good or bad, some characters have become symbols to such an extent that, I am, the authors never intended or even dreamed of. Wouldn’t it be so cool to create a character that ends up having a mind of its own?

                There are also names that have horrible connotations and can sound downright evil because of those connotations such as Voldemort, Darth Vader, Sauron, The White Witch, Iago, and Count Dracula. Without the evil connotations that are associated with these names, they might not sound so dreadful but there is something strangely intimidating about the name ‘Voldemort.’
                Why is that, do you think?

                But a name doesn’t have to be symbolic to have a meaning. Take Margo Roth Spiegleman in Paper Towns by John Green for example. Spiegleman is German for ‘mirror maker’ and it basically means that Margo is a mirror maker because when people see her, what they see is only a fun-house reflection of Margo and not the real Margo.  (I know it’s confusing, so just read the book and you’ll understand).
                Some writers are simply amazing at picking out names for their characters. Some of my favorite character names can be found in Charles Dickens’ novels such as Sir Leicester Deadlock, Mr. Smallweed, Clara Peggoty, and Martin Chuzzlewit. Charles Dickens usually took a whimsical approach for his wonderful array of characters, making even the smallest of characters strangely loveable.

                Picking names can be hard, though. Finding a name that fits your character can be a long and boring search but once you find the right one, it can be extremely rewarding and could make your story much more meaningful.
                But sometimes the lack of a name can be just as meaningful.
                In Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Rebecca, the story begins well into the lives of the two main characters, the man is named Maxim de Winter and the woman is unnamed.  Not long after meeting each other, they get married. As the story goes on, the protagonist finds out that her new husband was once married and his wife, Rebecca, died in a boating accident. Everyone she speaks to tells her how wonderful Rebecca was and how she could never be like her. The name Rebecca is always being spoken in the movie but the protagonist’s name is never even revealed. I love how even though Rebecca is dead when the movie begins, the movie is named after her and not the protagonist because the story is truly about Rebecca and not the protagonist.
                Good or bad, names can make or break your story. So what are some of your favorite names in literature?


Jonathon Arntson said...

I personally love the man and the boy from The Road. The novel maintains a sense of simplicity with no names and therefore becomes more powerful.

Great approach to explaining Paper Towns. You explained Margo as though John Green himself were feeding you the words. Which cover of Paper Towns did you read? I am interested to find out if the cover you had in your hands influenced your overall thinking during the book.

Oh, I also love to love the names Tally Youngblood, Katniss Everdeen, Alaska Young, Wanda (Wanderer), Nobody Owens, The Willoughbys (I know it's a last name, but it's great all the same).

Have you read The Vast Fields of Ordinary? If not, read it. If so, I love the name situation in that book.