Friday, March 28, 2014

Writing: What's In A Name?

When you read a novel, do you ever wonder how the author came up with the names of various characters? I'll confess that for my earlier books I chose names at random, sometimes even making use of the names of friends and acquaintances. But the further I went with writing, the more attention I paid to name choices.

I'm re-reading a book by the late Donald Westlake, one of the most talented writers of the past fifty years, and he chose a name for one of the characters that's absolutely driving me nuts! The man is a gang boss/farmer named Agricola. When I looked at it, I thought, "Agri-COLA. Interesting." But about thirty pages in, we're told the pronunciation is "a-GRICK-oh-la." From that point on, I fought with myself over how to pronounce the name--the way I'd imagined or the way Westlake showed. I'll let you guess what I ended up doing.

How about you? Does the name of a character matter? Do they conjure up images? What's your take on character names?

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J Smith said...

I'm more concerned with the quantity than the uniqueness of names. If there are a lot of characters, I have a hard time remembering who's who, and have to backtrack to figure it out, which is very frustrating. However, if all the characters are called my unusual monikers, then it can also get very confusing. I like a mix of common/easy names, and one or two unexpected choices.

Richard Mabry said...

We tend not to notice the number of different character names in some books. This came to my attention when I began setting up a "cast of characters" folder for my novels. That's necessary, by the way, to avoid calling a secondary character "Jake" in one scene and "Bill" in a subsequent one.
Thanks for your comment.

Seasons of Life said...

I have trouble reading a book with different sounding names. I get too caught up in trying to figure out how to pronounce each time I read it that it takes away from the book. I tend to stay away from books like that.

Richard Mabry said...

Yet more reason for writers to choose names that don't cause readers to spend most of their time figuring how to pronounce them--like Agricola.
Appreciate your comment.