Nomenclature: it means “something about names.” Names may seem a small part of the narrative, but naming conventions will either be undercurrents of appropriate accentuation or they’ll be the proverbial cracks in rusted armor.
Names done well will be fitting, poignant, maybe even memorable. Done like an amateur, and you’ll have oft-repeated, repugnant eyesores, infecting your vision like an oozing gnat assaulting your eyeball. Small, yes, but annoying unto disgrace if you can’t get those little things right.
That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.
I feel like I can tell a good story, but I want to take it to the next level by picking some memorable names for my characters. I don’t want to make them too cliché, but I think stronger writers have a knack for picking the “right” name. Any suggestions?
—Ethan Fritz, King of Prussia, Pa.
It’s not every day that I receive an email from royalty, much less the King of Prussia himself. I’d be happy to offer my suggestions, fealty, and remaining serfs upon my property, my lord. If you have a knighthood to spare, hit me up. I’ve always wanted to brand out as Sir Writing All Wrong, First Regent of LeBaronshire.
Speaking of LeBaron, here are some suggested considerations when it comes to naming.
1: Don’t name characters where they shouldn’t be named.
Pick a name fitting for the space and time.
“‘T’was a blighte upon my honour,’ quip’d Kraysheawn Denarius.” — Wrong.
(Blatant disregard for the respective era. Don’t do that.)
“Rusty ‘Big Jim’ McDigger pranced out of the salon feeling like a new man.” — Wrong.
(Unless he went into the salon with a shotgun, I don’t think people named Rusty ‘Big Jim’ frequent those sorts of places. Not sure about the prancing.)
“The Reverend Alburt Stuffedcrust preached long and hard upon fornication.” — Wrong.
(Alburt works, but Stuffedcrust is pushing credulity. Sounds too yummy.)
“‘I need those documents and reports now!’ demanded Janice Malarkey.” — Right.
(Not too gimmicky, and [no offense to Janices] I can see myself being bossed around by a Janice. The high-heel fits.)
2: You’re not strong enough to go generic.
Don’t try the cutesy trick of “letting the story make the character.” Lame name, lame game.
“He couldn’t find his way to the ever enigmatic Brandon Fields.” — Wrong.
(Wait, maybe “Brandon Fields” is a place. If I have to ask, then you’ve failed.)
“Sarah Palmer cast her eyes upon the gazing shore.” — Wrong.
(Almost had me at “gazing shore.” Forgot to dismiss another bland name here.)
“No man could stand up to Brawn Davis.” — Wrong.
(Unacceptable, with “Brawn” placing 5th on the Top 10 Baby Boy Names of 2011.)
“The target, O’Higgins Brodansky, had eluded the best agents of P.O.R.T.O.P.O.T.T.I. with ease.” — Right.
(Can’t argue with ‘Brodansky,’ bro.)
3: Don’t get too cheesed away either.
If it’s too easy and too cheesy, you fail both tests. F-minus-minus. EZ-Cheez™ is not for writing. Save it for the pork rinds.
“Marlin Fisher reeled in the biggest tuna of the millennium.” — Wrong.
(Too easy, unless Marlin really wanted to be a doctor, only to have his dad replace his hands with fishing poles to limit his career choice to his unfortunate namesake.)
“The horse just couldn’t break Helena Montana.” — Wrong.
(Helena’s a big place. You’re gonna need a bigger horse.)
“Slow day in the meat locker for Butch Cleaver.” — Wrong.
(If Butch is a fishmonger, he can be forgiven. Since he’s not, then no. And why is poor Butch hanging out in a meat locker? Is he really hanging? *gasp* Is this a butcher shop run by cannibals?)
“Anyone hiring Jim Bob Deadfield knew they were getting the best assassin clown in the business.” — Right.
(I have difficulty fathoming the scarier component of this: a hitman named “Jim Bob” or a clown surnamed “Deadfield.” It’s too convenient, and it’s just right.)
Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com), followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and appointed 5th Duke of Haruld’s Regentistry, Baronet.