What’s in a name?

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After all, that which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.

No offense to Juliet, but I think names are important. When I start writing a story and need to name my characters, one of two things happens:

1.  Her name comes to me immediately and I can’t imagine naming her anything else.

2.  I agonize over his name, change it a dozen times while I’m writing (thank God for the “replace all” function), look up its meaning in various cultures, and when I’m halfway through the story still think I made a mistake.

So how to decide?

Some important things to take into account when choosing a name

1. The time period This is of course if you’re writing in an actual time period on earth. If you are, keep in mind there weren’t a ton of Tiffanys in 1870s Ireland.

2. The location There also aren’t a lot of of Tiffanys who are native to Mongolia.

3. Their backgrounds In my first novel my main characters are American, but their family is French, and their heritage plays a big part in the story. The names had to work in present-day America and France. I chose Isabelle, Joe (Joseph), and Tommy (Thomas).

Okay, you’ve got that down. What else?

Personal preconceived notions that may or may not make sense

For me, certain names conjure up certain traits. Tristans will always be mysterious and hot, mostly thanks to seeing this at a young age. (Now I’m tempted to go watch the whole movie again. I guess it’s been a while since I’ve had a good hysterical sob). Peters are reliable and good (I had so much trouble with a villainous Peter in Divergent for this reason!) Katies are freckly sidekicks (not sure why I think that).

I have a general predilection to J names for boys (Joe, Jimmy, James, John, Jake, Jeremy—love them all). I love names that can be shortened depending on someone’s relationship to the character (Daniel/Dan/Danny, Thomas/Tom/Tommy). I stay away from K names for girls (even though the latter half of my name is a K name). And I like M names in both genders—I love Marie, Matthew, Max (and the first half of my name is an M name).

It’s your story. Choose the name that best conjures up the character you have in your head.

Can characters have similar names?

I just renamed one of my main characters in my work-in-progress about ten times. I think I’ve settled on Jeremy James. But I already have another main character named Joe. Is that a problem?

I read somewhere to use different sounding names for your characters, which is not advice without merit. I remember starting The Stand and mixing up Lloyd and Larry a few times at first (I’m a fast reader and have a bad habit of skimming when I’m really into a story and just can’t wait to see what happens next.)

But then your characters (hopefully) develop distinct personalities, and mixing them up becomes increasingly impossible. I mean, we have Harry and Hermione and I don’t think I mixed them up once.

Some things that are less important when choosing a name?

Don’t choose a name entirely based on its origins. It can be cool if you manage to find the perfect name that also expresses a personality trait your character possesses, but don’t name your non-Hindi character Aakashdeep just because it means “sky” and your character wants to be a pilot.

Don’t change a name you like because it’s similar to something in another novel. A couple years ago, when my novel was still very much a work-in-progress, I got around to reading those Twilight books everyone was talking about, and immediately panicked, thinking I had to change Isabelle’s name because it was similar to Bella. Never mind that my character is so clearly an Isabelle. Never mind that (spoiler alert) there are no sparkly vampires or teenage werewolves in my story. I was thinking, I’m writing a YA book, and I want mine to be different. So I changed Isabelle’s name to Guinevere. And as I kept writing, I realized I didn’t know who she was any more. Something that little, like a name change, changed how I saw her in my mind. I changed it back, Twilight similarities be damned.

That being said, don’t directly copy an unusual name from a popular novel. But I didn’t even read that! you cry. Well A) You should have—as a writer, you need to keep up on the market trends and B) Agents will notice if your protagonist is named Katniss. So will readers.

The people who do it well

J. K. Rowling is a genius with names. What if Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter‘s names were switched? Or if Augustus had been named Bob? Another one I love is Sutter Keely. It somehow just conveys “partying alcoholic teen with a heart of gold”.

Turns out there’s a lot in a name. What do you think?

Hearing the People Sing

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I saw Les Misérables on Broadway on Saturday. It was my favorite play growing up and I hadn’t seen it in about ten years. I’m happy to report it’s still amazing (in case you were wondering).

I call myself a bibliophile, but the truth is I’m a story-o-phile (is there a word for that?). I love well-told stories in all forms—books, TV shows, movies, plays, songs, you name it. And Les Mis is such an amazing story—beautiful themes, a character-driven plot, with singing to boot!

I love this story. I want to insert myself inside of it. I want to get inside Javert’s head, I want to fight at the barricade, I want to fall in love with Marius, I want to be Eponine.

(Side note: What does it say about me that I identify much more with the girl who gets rejected and dies over the one who falls in love and lives happily ever after? Maybe it’s because I find people down on their luck much more interesting than happy people. It’s like Julian Fellowes said: “Nothing is harder to dramatise than happiness.”)

However—however—I tried to read the book several years ago. And I couldn’t get through it. It’s the same with a lot of those really verbose novels of yore (or maybe it’s the lack of singing—I do love the singing). I made it about a quarter of the way through Anna Karenina (it actually gave me one of my favorite beautiful sentences) but ended up ditching it for something snappier. I only made through any Charles Dickens because I had to write papers about it.

Has anyone read Les Mis and really enjoyed it? Should I give it another chance?

 

MK’s Book Reviews

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In addition to talking about writing in this space, I’m going to talk about reading. Because you really can’t have one without the other.

One of the most common pieces of writing advice I read is, “You can’t be a writer without being a reader”. And then the advice-giver will go on to lament about prospective writers he’s met that don’t read books. And all I can think is: who are these people??

I am aware there are people out there who “don’t really like to read” and I feel horribly sorry for them (and secretly believe this), but I try not to be judgmental. You like what you like, right? I don’t really like to run. And for some people, it’s life.

But aspiring writers? Why would you want to be a writer if you’re not a reader? (I am honestly curious.)

I became a writer because I can’t imagine my life without stories. And books are a uniquely portable magic.

So, on to MK’s Book Reviews!

I tend to base my book-buying decisions on book previews, not the reviews of others, because there are a lot of people out there whose opinions I do not share. But then there are people whose recommendations I value. I hope to become one of those people to you.

I also personally don’t like book reviews that summarize the book for me—hi, I want to read the story, not your summary of it. Just tell me what you thought! So I won’t be doing that.

I will post brief spoiler-free reviews of recent reads, and maybe some not-so-recent reads, as well as their opening lines (I am debating whether or not to add in closing lines… they can be spoilers, and they can not be) and some of the more beautiful sentences (I love beautiful sentences).

I also want to only review books I like, not books I abhorred. There’s so much negativity out there, especially on the internet. Plus it’s more fun to talk about things you like than things you don’t. However, some less-than-positive opinions may slip in from time to time—I hate fake things, so I’ll take honesty over niceties anytime.

So here goes!

Above image from Tiffany’s