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Sunday, September 5, 2010

Pick a Name, Any Name

Oh, it's not that easy!! So far, the names of characters for my books has come pretty easily. I just knew what they'd be named. But names conjur up all sorts of associations so I never know if people will feel about the characters like I do. For instance, I knew a certain girl named X growing up. She was mean and terrible. And I always associate her name with that type of person. An author could write a story with a main character named X and she could be the nicest person in the world and I'd still think, "mean girl."

My maiden name was Guli (pronounced goo-ley). So people called me Jenny Guli. And if someone met me only once or twice and I saw them again I'd inevitably hear them say, "Hi Julie!" I cannot tell you how bothersome that was to me. Very annoying. But I understood how it could happen - they took the J and the ooley and I became Julie! I hated it.

Now if I'm talking to someone on the phone they're like, "hey, you're a nice Irish girl..." But I'm not Irish. My husband's name is. I'm Italian and German. The whole O'Connell thing doesn't really mean much to me, but I know that Irish people have a very strong connection to the motherland, so to speak. To me, it's just a name.

So I'm always thinking about my characters' names and what they'll conjur up in a reader's mind - confusion? association with a horrible person? a relative? a certain ethnicity or background?
Do readers even care about a character's name?


Jan Blazanin said...

During my teaching career I developed strong feelings about first and last names. For example, I never met a girl named Angel who was one. And I had exceptionally bad luck with any student whose last name was Moore. On the other hand, Emilys were almost always good students who were easy to work with. So I'm very sensitive to the names I choose for my characters.

Danielle Joseph said...

That is frustrating! My maiden name is Cohen, obviously very Jewish but after I got married I became Haitian like my husband since Danielle Joseph is a very Haitian name. I've even been told by people that I look like so and so from Haitian when I clearly don't look like most Haitians. And what really annoys me that somes people refer to me as Joseph Daniel. They automatically assume Joseph is the first name even though I have yet to meet a female Joseph! And Jan, one of my worst students was named Azreal (Gargamel's evil cat from the Smurfs). Poor kid!