Sunday, March 19, 2017

What's in a name?

Apparently not much. Shakespeare was right when he said, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Character names are the one thing that can stop me from writing a story. To me, a name reveals a lot about a person: their heritage, their strengths, their personality. So I always take extra time in choosing each one. If it doesn't feel right to me, I can't continue until I find a name that does. If the right name eludes me for too long, I'll insert brackets where the name should be, and keep writing.

So imagine my surprise when I learned that some readers don't care one bit about names. In fact, three of my former high school classmates commented that they ignore the names in stories, and substitute their own.

I was floored. Of course, I didn't expect any reader to be impressed with the names of my characters, but I did hope they would remember them, at least.

As a reader, the only time I object to character names is when the author goes overboard. This tends to happen in science fiction and fantasy sometimes. The characters are called something unreadable, and unpronounceable. That puts a damper on the story for me.

Since learning the names I select aren't nearly as memorable as I hoped, I've tried not to obsess about finding the perfect one. I'll admit, it's been a challenge. I still want the name to feel right.

So now I'm curious about other readers. What about you - do you substitute your own character names while reading? Please share!




7 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'll only substitute if the name is really difficult to pronounce. Since I do write science fiction, I've always tried to select simple, easy to pronounce names.
And I won't tell you how quickly and randomly I select names either...

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I don't even try to pronounce some of the stranger names in fantasy and scifi. I do forget names quickly. I may remember the entire story but not remember the main characters' names.

Cate Masters said...

Whatever works, Alex.

I do the same with long, strange names, Susan. My memory is terrible in general anyway.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Hey, Cate. Pennwriters is in Pittsburgh this year and Lancaster in 2018. Would love to see you at either one.

Cate Masters said...

Thanks Susan! :) Hopefully next year.

LD Masterson said...

I'll slide over the really hard ones in fantasy, or just give them a shortcut pronunciation of my own. But in general, if the name works for the character, I remember it. Sometimes I remember the characters names better than the book title.

Cate Masters said...

Yes! Thank you, Linda. I think that's the perfect explanation. Some characters names are just meant to be. :)