Posted by: Phil Anderson | October 12, 2014

What’s in a Name?


Names are an important part of communication and interaction, and thus they are also important in creating and writing. A name wraps up all the descriptions, attributes, and characteristics of a person or place into one, easy-to-use label. Of course characters or locations have to be more than just a name, but naming is a good place to start.

Gargoyles is one of my favorite television shows, and it had an interesting perspective on naming. In the series mythology, the title creatures as a species or race did not traditionally use names. They called each other “mentor” or “love” or “friend” and these descriptors did more to identify the relationship than the individual. One character, when asked about his name, replied, “Must you humans name everything? Nothing’s real to you till you’ve named it, given it limits.”

It’s interesting to think of a name as a limit, as if a name defines who a person is and they can never be more than that. I try to consider this when I create characters. I think about who they are and who they will become, their relationships and interactions with other characters, and what makes them unique.

Once I have a good idea who they are, then I work on choosing the right name. It has to sound and feel like the person or place it belongs to. For example, I imagine a character named “Stan” being very different from someone named “Blake.” Some of this is subjective, based on personal experience and people we know, but there is a shared cultural aspect as well.

Naming a character isn’t the end of defining who they are. Everyone continues to grow and develop, and over time they do become more than just the identifying label.

What does a person’s name say about them? Have you ever met (or read about) someone whose name didn’t seem to fit? Leave comments below.

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