Wednesday, April 1, 2009

What's In A Name?

I'm giving an online workshop on characterization through Charter Oak RWA for the next few weeks and coincidentally starting a new story myself. The class started just today, so there's still time to sign up if you're an aspiring writer. I assigned my students the task of naming their h/h and explaining why they chose those names. After sharing several pages of notes and suggestions for how to breathe life into their h/h, here is the example I gave them using my new cast of characters (and your chance to see how I go about planning out a new book!).

In my new WIP, STROKE OF GENIUS, my heroine’s name is Grace Makepeace. She’s a Bostonian heiress and her Puritan roots are showing. But the name Grace is a bit of a misnomer because Grace is anything but graceful. Tall and gawky, she’s awkward and uncomfortable with most social situations. But because she’s called Grace, there is an implied character growth arc in the name, which gives me some ideas for plot as well.

Grace means “unmerited favor” and carries the connotation of redemption, which also gives me the idea that she’s going to be redeeming someone—most likely my badboy hero. See how the very names of characters suggest plot points?

Grace Makepeace is made up mostly of soft sounds, except for the GR at the beginning, which to me suggests that she has strength of which she’s not yet aware.

I’ll make certain not to have any other characters starting with G in my story and I’m still trying to decide if her name will change. Grace can’t be shortened into a nickname, but she could be given a new name by another character.

Which brings us to my hero, Crispin Hawke.

Crispin is an artistic genius (hence the title of the story!) who’s been engaged to scuplt Grace’s hands in marble. His surname Hawke hints at his keen observation skills and he’s been using them on the ton of London while he practices his art. Cynical, but brilliant, he’s just the man to help Grace beat the ton at their own games.

Crispin means “curly haired,” so looks like my hero is going to have some natural curls. In the time of Byron, this was a good thing for a man. Crispin was also a 3rd century saint, so I can play up my Crispin’s non-saintly attributes.

Crispin Hawke is a strong name, bookended with the hard “K” sound. But the soft ‘h’ in the middle suggests a softer side hidden beneath his carefully placed armor.

Grace will call him ‘Cris’ almost immediately and it will irritate the fool out of him. I have no idea why, but I'm sure I'll find out.

So that's a peek at how choosing the right name can help an author delineate character.

The sketch at the top of this post is actually by Sandro Botticelli, but for "imagineering" purposes, I'm pretending it's a sketch done by Crispin . . . before he meets Grace . . . which bears an uncanny resemblance to her.

Do you have any favorite literary heroes or heroines who have unique names?


Rachel E. Moniz said...

Hi Emily!
I found this quite fascinating to read and actually re-read it when I was done.
I never considered doing any of the analysis that you wrote about. But I see that it can so help when developing the character's personality. I'm very intrigued to do this myself, even if it means going and anazlyzing the names in my first release LOL...
Wonderful to stop by and read your words today!

Penny Watson said...

I just read an Amanda Quick book where the owner of a business catering to men with "virility" problems was named Hardstaff. Cute!

Jane L said...

Hi Emily! I really like how you choose your names! I love going through the different names in books and picturing my H & HH with them! I so wanted to take this class , but I think I would have so much on my plate right now I would be overwhelmed! With RT right around the corner and I am trying to get a project done , that someone suggested I submit,EEKS! Now I am nervous!

EmilyBryan said...

Rachel--I use lots of things to prick my imagination and names are just where I start. Writing is an ocean of things to learn and I'm still just dabbling my toes.

Penelope--LOL! Hardstaff. Too funny.

Jane L--Saying no is sometimes a wise thing to do. I should try it someday! But since I'm just starting a new story, I figured teaching this workshop would also give me a chance to make use of what I'm trying to teach.

Are you going to pitch at RT? We'll have to get together for a practice session.