Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Name Game

When our group of writerly sisters met this month, Natalie had a problem. She writes speculative fiction--fantasy, to be specific--and she couldn't settle on a name for her mc (main character).

"I'm stuck," she said. "I can't write on until I have a name." She needed one suitable to both her genre and her character. The girl no longer worked. The character was gelling in her mind, but the name eluded her. So we sat around my dining room table brainstorming names--alas, to no avail.

A couple days after our gathering, Natalie sent out a Facebook message to the sisters that she had found the perfect name. We all celebrated her victory.

Character names are extremely important. Try to imagine The Adventures of Clarence Finn, Harriet Eyre, The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Joe B. Smythe, or Robert the Pooh. What if Old Yeller had been named Golden Boy or Because of Winn-Dixie were Because of Walmart? Would a rose by any other name truly smell as sweet? I'm with Anne Shirley on that one. If roses were called skunk cabbages, they couldn't be as fragrant. (And would you want to read Bertha of Green Gables?)

As with most words, a name carries with it connotation and denotation, the latter being its actual meaning (which the writer can discover by visiting baby-naming sites). The connotation is the baggage the name carried with it, for the writer, but also for the reader. The two may be quite different, depending on personal experience with the name. For example, I won't name a positive character Jackie because a boy by that name tormented me throughout my public school years. Bonnie is out for me, too. You likely have a list of off-limit names.

Now I have my own naming quandary.  I'm writing my third middle-grade novel, this one for the lower end of that readers' range. It's set in east-central Indiana in the 1930s. My mc is a ten-year-old feisty girl who dares to confront her step-father about his parental skills--or lack thereof. I'm torn between Leora and Tillie (short for Matilda).

Which name do you prefer and why? Or is there one you like better than either of those? Please click "Comments" to register your input. Thanks much!

Write on!
Because of Christ,


  1. Leora isn't a smooth name. Leona, in my opinion, is a bit easier to read.

    I think I would choose Tillie because I once knew a wonderful, but feisty, older lady named Tillie.

  2. I favor Tillie, too. My first reaction was negative because the only people I've known to have that name were elderly; but that fits someone who would've been a girl in the 30's. Go for it!