Choosing Names for Fiction, part 2

For some reason today, I keep on referencing other blogs that I have written in the past, and this blog will be no different. I picked up an obscure romance comic today, and one that I couldn't resist based on the cover, but it made me think of another romance comic which had a similar problem of choosing names for characters. This was not really similar though in case of the other problem (which was just the result of choosing a too common name for multiple characters in the same issue.) This was a different problem, but I can show you why first better than to explain it:

Or how about the bed next to your dead mother in the rocking chair that you think still alive and wants you to kill for her?

Norma Bates? Like Norman Bates the infamous fictional serial killer, who while fictional was based on a real life serial killer? The character that was voted the 2nd greatest villain on AFI's list of movie villains. I get this problem myself sometimes when writing that I have a first name or last name in mind and then when my mind tries to fill in the blank other half it goes to something which I know without me recognizing it. This goes beyond that though. In this case I would have to assume that the writer either doesn't know who Norman Bates is (though I know and I am not writing a comic within a decade that the movie was released); didn't recognize the name through a slip; or recognized the name but didn't care. In any case for me this pretty much sealed the entire story for me, as the connection though potentially unintended was still really creepy.

9 Comments
9 Comments
Posted by Pyrogram
Posted by dngn4774

It usually takes me about a half hour for a character's name. The trick is to do it as the last stage in the creation process. It's easier to put a name on a character after you already have a sense of what you want that name to represent in it.

Posted by Pyrogram

@dngn4774: See. I do it at the start. The name helps me make the char.

Posted by dngn4774

I just wanted to add when you choose a name for your character never make it too obvious. I read this lame fan fic about a guy who could fly and the main character's name was Jeremy Floeter and his arch nemesis was this kid named Eugene Bitterman. My point is when you make names like that you're really just being lazy and insulting your audience's intellect.

Posted by cbishop

@razzatazz: I'm assuming the comic was produced after the movie? Also, was there anything about the romance story that suggested a horror theme? Or at the very least, could the name have been used intentionally, in order to generate a red herring effect- making you expect some horrific twist that never happened? It might be they just wanted to homage the movie in some small way. It is weird though.

@pyrogram said:

@dngn4774: See. I do it at the start. The name helps me make the char.

@dngn4774 said:

I just wanted to add when you choose a name for your character never make it too obvious. I read this lame fan fic about a guy who could fly and the main character's name was Jeremy Floeter and his arch nemesis was this kid named Eugene Bitterman. My point is when you make names like that you're really just being lazy and insulting your audience's intellect.

I start with the name too, and I intentionally go for making it too obvious- nearly all of my character names are wordplay names. It's not to insult my readers though- it serves a few purposes:

  • I'm just having fun coming up with the names.
  • It helps me define the character. I've been surprised how much wordplay can help define a character's personality.
  • If the reader understands the wordplay, it gives me a shortcut towards getting them to understand the character. I think this is especially important when creating a new universe to compete with well established universes that have eighty-plus years of history. As is evident even on the fan-fic board, it's difficult to get readers to try something new, so I think it's important to use every tool available to help them grasp the character as quickly as possible. Not because they're stupid, but because I want them to keep reading.

Admittedly, a wordplay name is dicey business. If it's too much of a groaner, it can take the reader right out of the story- I've read novels where this was the case. The Paige Turner series plays the main character's name straight, and you can get past it, but the subsequent names that are used are a little distracting- like the exotic dancer named Patty Cake. However, there's a comic called Patty Cake where the name works- it's a comedic comic about a little girl with a dad who yells a lot. The name's not a distraction in that case. In the Harry Johnson comic, the name is used for comedic effect, and is the springboard to most of the story's jokes. Some are a little more subtle, like Jennifer Blood, which may not be immediately obvious to everyone is a play on "bludgeon." If it is obvious though, then when you couple it with the black leather and weaponry, you're pretty sure that this comic is gonna get messy. The wordplay might even loosen the reader up enough to realize that the mayhem is part of the ride, instead of just thinking that the creators have lost their minds.

I think it's all in how you play it, but wordplay names are great fun and great tools. Some people just aren't going to like them though, and that can't be helped. <shrugs> Can't please everyone.

Posted by M3th

MetH always takes a wHile to name His cHaracters. MetH even renames tHem and likes for tHeir names to Have a deep meaning beHind tHem, even if nobody can tell besides MetH.

-ABstract4$$#073-

Edited by XIII

What, um, Meth said?

13

Posted by RazzaTazz

@cbishop: It was from after the movie, and it was not horror like at all.

Edited by cbishop

@razzatazz: I had a feeling that would be the case, but I had to ask the obvious and get that out of the way. ;)