What’s In a (Character’s) Name?

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There is a phrase misquoted by many that proclaims that a rose by any other name is still a rose. While it isn’t quite what Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet, it still is a valid point.  You can call a rose a banana, but it wouldn’t change what it truly is or take away from its beauty.

Does this hold true for literary characters?  Let’s look at a few examples. Would Severus Snape seem so mean when we first met him if his name was Bill Jones? Would we care as much about Katniss Everdeen in the beginning pages if her name was Ruth Schwartz? The right name helps define a character and forms an impression on the reader.

When I first sit down to develop my story, I spend hours researching names, places and even old languages to find that “perfect” name that says something important. For me, a name is one brush stroke that will paint a vivid picture in the reader’s mind.  How a name sounds or the meaning/origin of a name can be as important as a character’s physical description.

While there may not be a perfect method in naming your protagonist or antagonist, don’t overlook this step. I keep another quote in mind as skim through baby names or using Google Translate to find the Gaelic word for powerful:

“You decide every day who you will and will not be.  Be bold in your decisions, but remember, choose wisely.”

Be bold, do your research, and let the name reflect who the character is. Choose wisely.

Be bold, take your time, and make sure the name tells a story. Choose wisely.

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