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Monday Musing: What’s In a Name?

November 15, 2010

This isn’t really a terrible tip or a reading fundamental, so introducing Monday Musings!  Where at least in this edition I ponder some not overly important writing-related issue.  If you like it and I think of others maybe we can make it a more regular thing.

Anyway, I’ve noticed that when I write a story, I can become attached to the name of a character.  For instance, the main character of this series is named Emma.  So now when I see that name in any other book, movie, TV show, Jane Austen convention, I instantly think of my character.  So as happened recently in another book where the author says Emma has blond hair, I say, “No she doesn’t!  She has red hair.”  Because of course my Emma has red hair.  And is a super-intelligent, super-nice geologist who moonlights as a superhero.

This has happened other times as well.  Usually it has to be a character used in a series because a one-and-done story you have less time to become attached.  Whereas if you’ve worked with a character for a three, four, or eight stories (plus however many drafts of each story) you’ve worked with them for years and years.  The only exception to this might be if someone else named a character Frost, but I don’t think anyone’s been dumb enough to use that as a first name yet.

Of course the irony is that sometimes the names I choose are completely arbitrary.  Why was Emma named Emma and not Petunia?  Simple.  In the original short story she appears in, which was part of a group of stories, I was having some fun and using the letter ‘E’ for every main character.  So we had Elena, Eloise, Eric, and so forth.  When it came to her name I wanted to use that old alliteral superhero naming scheme like Lois Lane, Vicki Vale, Peter Parker, or in a way even Clark Kent as both of his names have the hard-K sound.  I came up with the last name Earl after the Rutger Hauer character in “Batman Begins” and then Emma just kind of fell into place.  Then randomly I gave her middle name as “Jane.”  Later I came up with a clever (to me at least) story about her name, saying that her mom had a thing for Jane Austen, hence her name is Emma (like the book) and Jane (like the author).  Neat, huh?

Despite the almost arbitrary nature of the name, now it’s like I’ve taken possession of it.  So if I’m on the street and some mom says, “Come here Emma” I’ll look over and think, “Hey, that’s not her!”  Because I am probably insane.

The other thing is that once I do that with a character, I sort of retire that name.  So you’ll never see another Emma in any future stories of mine, unless I’m being ironic.  Just like you don’t see any other characters named Lisa or Samantha or Floyd after a certain point for the same reason.  Obviously we’re not going to have another character named Frost either.  (There was another name I came up with arbitrarily because since I had used “E”s previously I decided to use “F” names that time and it just popped into my head.  Then I came up with the story in the book about it being the last name of the nurse who helps his mom deliver him and since it’s a boy and Matilda isn’t a good name for a boy, she names him Frost instead.)

Anyway, so I wonder if anyone else has this problem or if it’s just me?  Hurm…

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