So how could I possibly avoid eating the candy? It was a long-driving road trip. We were listening to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (it’s Roald Dahl month!), and the song on the radio was “Sugar, Sugar, oh honey honey, you are my candy girl, and you got me wanting you.” I’d been subconsciously prepped, so why not buy a Bit o’ Honey, a Snickers, a Spree, and a pack of Doublemint—and eat them all myself?
I have a dear friend named Taffy, actually. When I first met her I had to do an audio doubletake. Taffy? Excuse me?
But the better I got to know her the better her name fit her. If anyone ever was appropriately called Taffy it’s she.
I have another friend. She’s completely down to earth. She’s strong. She’s bright. She’s no frills, no pink, no ribbons or bows. She told me that when she was born, her mom (under the influence of post childbirth swirling emotions) wanted to name her Buffy.
So, when we name book people, how do we come up with just the right name? I have read books where the whole way through the name of the main character has caused a little “ding” in my mind every time I see it. The name doesn’t fit the character’s age or personality or the time period setting of the book—something.
I find that choosing characters’ names is one of the great tasks. Sometimes the name hits me first, and then the story follows. I suspect The Great Gilly Hopkins. Perhaps Willy Wonka, too (while we’re on the candy subject.)
Other times I know the story, but I don’t know the character’s name for a long time. When I was pregnant with our oldest we bought these great name books—not just long lists of names listed alphabetically, but the listing included the connotation of the name, the way he might be perceived by his peers, whether it was stodgy or cool, solid or fluffy, plus lots of other naming theories. Loved them. The latest update of this series I bought was called The Baby Name Bible.
It’s a tricky business naming a character. It has to fit just right. The character doesn’t have the opportunity to grow up and head over to Social Security and make the change if you don’t get it right the first time. Only the author has the power and responsibility for the perfect fit. That is a hefty burden sometimes.
Sometimes an honest mistake can be made. This is why critique groups are so important. I was proofreading a story by an acquaintance once and the main character’s name was … let’s just say it was offensive. A baddie. Because it was the main character, it was on every page. When I mentioned she might like to rename him, she got a little defensive (we love our story-children), and so I got my husband to explain the meaning to her. She decided to let it go. Whew.
It’s important, I think, to have names that are memorable. They don’t have to be wacky-out-of-the-realm-of-normality names, but they need to be slightly odd. John Grisham is good at this. I decided a while back I think he skims the phone book and finds some of the weirder names and picks some. I liked the fact that Charlie in the chocolate factory’s last name is Bucket. It’s believable but quite memorable. In farce (like that) the people can be names that describe them (Angina—fat mother of spoiled rich girl, means heart attack; Gloop for the greedy kid; etc.) I have made the mistake of having names be too pedestrian. It helps the reader, (at least when I’m the reader), to have the names be just enough different to be memorable. Think Holden Caulfield, Katniss Everdeen, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, etc.
Growing up "Jennifer"....I mean, in the '70s almost every girl seemed to be named Jennifer. Or Lisa. It had its pros and its cons.
So, I guess a couple of the things I now watch out for as I’m naming book people is to try not to have any rhyming names, to not have any two names begin with the same letter, and make it memorable.
There’s a poem by Robert Frost about a girl whose parents name her Maple. Not Mabel. It is forever giving her trouble, and then one day it becomes the springboard of a conversation with a man who ends up falling in love with her. The final line of the poem goes something like “Name children some names and see what you do.” Or what happens.
I like that.