Monday, August 20, 2007

Character Name

What’s in a character’s name?
How does a writer select the perfect name?

Is it the symbolism behind a name? Some personal preference? Just what comes to mind?

I recently watched I, Robot. Great film, heavy symbolism, terrific imagery – well worth the invested time to watch. However, it was one character’s name that stopped traffic for me, one name that held center stage, the robot: Sonny

The meanings behind such a simple name captured my attention. Was the robot so named because . . .

1) The doctor considered himself to be the figurative father of all these robots, but specifically this one that existed only because of his creative powers. He made Sonny personally – rather like fathering a son.
2) Or did the original creator of I, Robot, author Isaac Asimov, mean to enact a more literal link: Sonny as the actual son of God. Certainly, the imagery exists for viewers of the movie, I, Robot to make this connection. Watch the closing seconds of the film. Sonny stands atop a hill in front of a destroyed bridge (that closely resembles a cross) as thousands mass beneath the hill and turn expectantly toward him and the insight he can provide. What will these gathered masses learn? Sonny has the secret. All are created with the ability to choose – the ultimate freedom. It does smack of Christianity, does it not?

Whether you're a writer, a reader, a TV/Movie buff, you have an opinion on a favorite character’s name. Share and tell why. Are you a parent? How did you pick your children's names? Family tradition? Favorite name? What you'd like to be named? Come on -- do share!

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Sandra!

For me a poignant name is always Adam, or Eve. Any time I hear of a character with one of those names, I always think of "the first", or "beginning". In one of my stories my main male protagonist was Adam, because the person he was at the beginning of the story was not the person he was by the end. He had regenerated, so to speak. He was a new creation.

Sometimes when I am searching for a character name, I look for the literal meaning of names. In a recent story of mine, I had an Arabic Prince that needed a name. He became Rafiq because in Arabic that name means royalty. In a way he was a stronger character for me from that point on because it wasn't just a random name. It had meaning and with that meaning came significance.

L.A. Mitchell said...

My first thought, because I just finished reading it, is in Peter Abraham's OBLIVION. I love that initially his protagonist is known as Petrov, but after his illness and memory resembles a cheese grater, he simply becomes Nick. This is an expert way of using name to help the reader connect with a character.

As for names in the real world, I think we grow into and become the embodiment of our name. Rarely will you see a Supreme Court Justice named "Kimmy". I think this is known as the "Margaret" factor, where a group of scientist followed a focus group of children and found this is, indeed, true.

As a writer picking character names, I always gravitate to the simple, one syllable names (probably why I've been tempted to change "Destiny" ten times already). If it's too long, it clogs my brain to look at it a thousand times in a novel and might affect the reader the same way.

Great topic, Sandra. Can't wait for your booksigning on Saturday!

Laurie said...

Hi Sandra! Thanks for commenting on my blog yesterday.
We named our daughter "Milena" (pronounced Mi-short i-lay-na" from a song by Canadian song artist "Luba".It told the story of a 16 yr old girl who was executed in Argentina, during the war there back in the '80's.
Our son "Nathan" means "gift of God" and we named him "Samuel" for his second name, after his grandfather.

When I pick characters for my books I often choose them by meaning, but I also will check the phone book to come up with great sounding connections. The phone book is also good for picking up on ethnic names you might not have the imagination for. :)

When "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" was all the rage, I loved the name "Buffy" because it conjured up the perfect high school kid - a trendy name but still young enough to be in high school. So, I think names have to reflect your characters age, status, and sometimes - occupation. For eg. you wouldn't name a plumber Raphael, but you might use it for a Navy Seal who changes it to Rafe.
Another thing I do is find a good baby name site that has the 10 most popular names in such-and-such a year. If my character was born in 1963, I check that to see what the top ten common names were and hone in on that.

Just some thoughts!

Michelle said...

Thank you for visiting my blog and for your comment about my daughter :)

The Rocking Pony said...

We chose Rebecca's name solely on the reasoning that nobody else in the family had that name. (Huge family) It happened to be Biblical, and we ran with that theme afterward, but all with meaning. Joshua was named after my husband's brother was killed in a car accident and the funeral message text came from that book in the Bible. Luke was due at Christmas so we chose the book in the Bible that tells the story. And Micah was just a cool name, but turns out nobody can pronounce it and everyone thinks the kid is a girl.

Middle names are in honor of loved ones. Whether or not the kids like it, they've got a heritage to live up to.

Sandra Ferguson said...

Thanks for all your great comments.

I watched 'Where The Heart Is' last night -- one of my all-time favorite movies.

There is a scene where Novalee talks to Moses about her baby's name -- Wendi with an I she tells Moses. And he says, "Don't you do that. Give that baby a name that means something."

wow, exactly what all of you have talked about.

Thanks for sharing the helpful tips on character's names and how you came up with them.

Rocking Pony -- my kids have family names as well, and much to live up to. I think they're ready for the task. *SMILE* But then I think my kids are pretty darn near perfect.

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