Names

What is it in our brains that makes that connection? Recently I’ve been doing crosswords and I’ve felt it when I suddenly understood a clue. “Rubber” =
“Masseuse”. Holy cow, you’re freaking kidding me. But there it is. A light goes on and there’s no doubt and the letters fit and you have the answer.

That’s how I feel when I get the right name for a character. Suddenly a light goes on and it reveals every aspect of his or her personality. Who he is, what she does. How she feels, how he reacts.

But why does it matter? What is it about the name that makes the character? Why is it important to character development?

I’m asking some other writers questions that I hope will reveal some of that to me. These are writers I admire, who I consider much more advanced in their field than me. Already we’ve heard from Joe about his novel NAME. I chose Joe to lead off the series for obvious reasons. His novel has more to do with identity than it does with vampires, although it is the best vampire novel I’ve ever read. Of course, you should understand I was never a Rice fan and I’ve never had enough time to sit down and read Stoker.

I loved Joe’s answers to my questions, but I especially found intriguing his answer to my final query. When I asked if there were any names he’d never consider using for a character, he said, “If a character needs a certain name, whatever that might be, then he or she will likely get it. There aren’t certain names with certain associations that I wouldn’t allow myself to use or anything like that.”

That answer struck me as particularly brave and devoted. It’s an issue I’ve fought with that recently. Am I allowed to use all the names in my repertoire? If I know someone with a name I want to use, can I do that? I cannot tell you how many times I’ve thought of using a name for a character, have built a whole history for this character and suddenly realized I know someone with that name. Crap. My character’s entire life falls like a house of cards. Either I start associating the real-life owner with that character or I worry that the real-life owner will do so.

On Monday we’ll get A.J. Brown’s answers to my personal crossword. I can’t say yet how his words will fit into the puzzle, but I’m hoping for that a-ha moment I love so much.

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