Tag Archives: character names

What’s in a name…

My wife had always loved the name Samantha, in part because “Sami” would be the girl’s nickname – complete with an i at the end. So when our daughter was born we named her Samantha Lynn. We always call her Sami, and always spelled it with an i. When Sami was three she had learned to spell her name – complete with the i at the end. She was so proud she was telling everyone we met. At a restaurant one night she was telling the server, who responded, “Hey, I’m Sammy too. I spell it with a y because I liked to have a squiggle at the end.”

On that night, Samantha decided a squiggle at the end of her name sounded too cool for words, and Sami was no more. She became Sammy, complete with her squiggle, and there was nothing the original authors of her epic tale could do about it.

Character names are very important in novels because they are often the first glimpse a reader gets of a character. First impressions really are everything. A southern belle with a Chinese name or an action heroine named Gertrude will seem out of place unless the author takes the time to explain why the character has an atypical name for the setting. An alien or magical being with a complex name will become a distraction to a reader unless, like Samantha, the character is given a nickname. If a reader finds a character’s name to be a distraction each time they encounter the it, either because they wonder where the name came from or skip over it because they can’t pronounce it, there is a good possibility they will enjoy the book less.

A lot of thought went into selecting the name for our publishing company. I wanted a name that was unique (so it would be remembered) yet sophisticated – Bootlegged Whipped Cream Press would have certainly been unique, but would people have taken it seriously? At the time, I also wanted to focus on publishing social and political commentary. Divertir is French for “to amuse and entertain,” so it was a perfect fit. Even as we moved away from our original plans by publishing new-author fiction, because our goal is still to produce books that amuse, entertain, inform, and maybe even inspire, the name is still a good fit.

This is not to say you can’t have some fun with character names. Sarah can become Sadie as she starts a new adventure in life (or death), and the self-important Jonathan can become irritated when your sympathetic antagonist calls him Johnny as a way of emphasizing the fact that Jonathan has a bit of an ego. But the names of your characters deserve as much thought as the names of your own children, because they are your children and the names you give them will follow them forever – even when they decide to spell them differently.

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