Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Name Game

By Mark W. Danielson

Everybody sing it!

Shirley!Shirley, Shirley bo Birley Bonana fanna fo FirleyFee fy mo Mirley, Shirley!
Lincoln!Lincoln, Lincoln bo Bincoln Bonana fanna fo FincolnFee fy mo Mincoln, Lincoln!
Come on everybody!I say now let's play a game . . .

Wow, even remembering that song dates me! But the name game in this blog is really about choosing good names. Bad names not only affect your story, but they can be a real pain to change.

No one can argue that the personal computer made writing easy. Not only is it simple to edit, it will also spell and grammar check your work, go to any page you want, find any word you want, and even remove and replace words. Of course, everything has its limitations. Computer experts refer to this as “garbage in/garbage out”. In other words, while your spell check does a good job of finding misspelled words, the grammar check has no way of knowing whether you actually used the correct word. Wright? Write? I mean, right?

I’m sure that most of you have discovered these annoyances on your own, but here’s how the name game can add to your frustration. For example, what happens when you name a character Ed and then decide to change it after you’ve completed the manuscript? Simple, right? Just remove and replace it. Well, that’s what you would hope, except computers don’t see words that way. Instead, it changes every “ed” to whatever you told it to. (Garbage in, garbage out.) So let’s say you want to replace Ed with Sib. Now every “hoped” becomes “hopSib”, every “worked” becomes “workSib”, every “completed” becomes “completSib”, every “fired” becomes “firSib”. Not exactly what you wanted, was it? Then after you painstakingly go through the manuscript and correct all of these errors, you decide that Sib isn’t right either, so you replace Sib with Bud. Now every “possible” reads “posBudle”. Get the idea? It’s hardly amusing.

Then how do you choose suitable names? Besides referencing character naming books, you can look through phone books, or pay attention to the names in the movie credits. Combining first and last names can create some fun character names, but you should remember that names can date people as quickly as a song. In other words, women named Midge or Evelyn suggest they are elderly while Kelly or Amanda could be any female from five to thirty-five. So, how do you avoid selecting the wrong names? Outlining is probably the best way, for there is usually sufficient detail to identify most of your characters. It also allows you to change the names without investing a significant amount of time.

I don’t mind admitting that I’ve learned these lessons the hard way. Then again, I’m sure I’m not alone. Regardless, have fun with the name game, and make your characters shine.


Helen Ginger said...

Also be careful of referring to characters by multiple names (not accidentally, but on purpose). Robert is called Robert...and Bob...and Rob. And Catherine is called Catherine and Cathy and Cat. It's confusing. By confusing, I mean confusing and frustrating and annoying.

Straight From Hel

Mark W. Danielson said...

I agree, Helen. Character naming is proably the most difficult part of fiction writing. It's also the most important.

Jaden Terrell said...

Mark, I've made the "replace all" error too. I changed Nate to Nathan once. All of a sudden, rooms were illuminathaned by candles and my detective placed a tip on the laminathaned bar.

Now I've got to stop procrastinathaning and put up my Thursday post.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Beth, worse than a remove and replace fiasco is when you use a wrong word that is spelled correctly. Case in point, I once wrote about a man wrapping his arms around a woman's waste:) Kind of paints a different image than the intended waist, doesn't it? Needless to say, I caught it and had to take a break because I was laughing so hard. Yes, computers are great, but we still have to track every word.

Anonymous said...

I usually people my books with too many characers and discover that I have two or three names that start with the same letter, and have to go back and change them. I've also had some hilarious results with the letters changing in the middle of "unintended" words as a result.
A very time consuming and frustrating lesson.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Mark, speaking of name changes, the computer changed mine to Anonymous. Has a catchy ring to it, doesn't it? Anonymous Mead.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Anonymous Mead, eh? Catchy. Could that be shortened to Animead?