08 May 2010

A Rose by Any Other Name Still Gets the Blame for the Thorns

"The Naming of Cats" is an excellent poem by T.S. Eliot. If you haven't read it, you must be culturally depraved indeed.

Names are more important to an author than a parent. I know that sounds odd, but it's true.

As an author, I fret over a name for a character.

My own children's names came quite easily.

As a story begins to tell itself to me, a character often tells me his/her name right away.

Sometimes, though, I've got to use a descriptive name as the fabulists of old did because the character is either too shy to tell me his/her name or is being a bit of a prankster and making me guess his/her name or wait until I'm well into the story to tell me his/her name.

As a teacher, I have nearly 3,000 names of former students from which to choose. Because my YA characters are amalgams of my students, a character name pops to mind as I remember a former student who is much like the character in the story, and so the name sticks.

In NEVЯLAND, the protagonist's name has changed twice.

First, I thought she said her name was Rianne Pfaltzgraft. I had a seventh grade student many, many years ago named Rianne Pfaltzgraft, and I've always wanted to use that name in a tale.

As I began to outline and then write, the girl aged from 12 to 13 and she told me "Rianne Pfalzgraft" wasn't her name at all. She was just using that until I begin to listen.

To tell you the truth, I still wasn't listening well enough, and I didn't catch the second incarnation of the character's name and I don't remember it now.

Finally, she shouted the name out to me: Laynie.

I have a student graduating this year named Laynie, and as the character developed, I realized how much much the protagonist of NEVЯLAND and Laynie were twins--not so much in appearance but in attitude and temperment.

Interesting, Laynie (the character, not the real student) still looks an awful lot like Rianne, which is probably why I was confused as to her name in the beginning.

Once I had Laynie's name, her friends' names came next and came quickly: Lauryn, Ravyn, Cynthea, and Kymber. These are actual names of students I know.

There's a clique nickname in that group of "Y" girls.

Until Lauryn told me her name, I had to call her Snobby in the outline. At 13, she already is a multi-beauty pageant winner and is quite vain and, well, snobby. Her brother is referred to as Snobby's Brother, or SB for short.

The eighth grade boy Laynie is interested in is just called Jock (he plays football and runs track) while the geek who is interested in Laynie is called Nerd Boy because he is, well, a geek and a nerd.

I know both of these boys will eventually reveal to me their names, hopefully by the time I submit the manuscript in August!

For name inspiration, I also like to scan baby name lists on the Internet.

However, the best is the SSN most popular names over the past one hundred years. Here's the LINK.

Character names are important. It's hard to image the protagonist of Catcher in the Rye being named Mike Smith instead of Holden Caufield.

And imagine the lost symbolism in Death of a Salesman if Willie Loman's name was Sam Steward.

See you the bookshelves.

Larry Mike Garmon

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