Discussion: Suitability of Character Names:

Total posts: [19]
Although not true in real life, a character' name can tell us a lot about a character. In the context of writing, a well selected name can cement a character in a reader's mind. This is because names often have certain connotations and images in the minds of people. For instance, Svetlana is always a beautiful, tall blonde. Meanwhile, Brunhilda is a rough and tough cookie.

On the flip side, an inappropriately chosen name could wreak havoc on the perceived characterisation of a given character and confuse the reader's mental image of said character. For instance, you wouldn't name your Jerk Jock Erwin, your Nerd Brock, or your sexy Fashionista Gertrude. At least, not without lampshading the mismatch between audience expectations and the actual situation or a very good in-story reason. For whatever reason, those names simply "don't match" those personalities.

With this in mind, my main question is:

What connotations/stereotypes/implications come to mind when you hear the name 'Katherine'? Both, the name in and of itself, as well as this particular spelling variant (e.g. versus Catherine, Katrin, Kate, etc).

Also, feel free to discuss the general subject as well. I think it's something many of us here will find useful.

edited 6th Feb '13 7:50:40 AM by peasant

2 Rainbow6th Feb 2013 01:25:23 PM , Relationship Status: Puppy love
I personally highly dislike the idea that a person's name somehow determines their personality. Names reflect more on the parents than on the children, unless it's a name someone chose for themselves, anyway, at least in real life. I also would prefer that name stereotypes be challenged by fiction and break those stereotypes rather than contributing to them. Of course, I'm not saying that you can't ever have nerds named something like Melvin any more (because that creates a whole new stereotype), it's more that I oppose the idea that certain names can only be given to characters with certain personalities.

I also tend to personally prefer characters with unusual names, especially of the sort that would fit characters from shows like My Little Pony, and challenge the idea that such names are "silly" or could not be taken seriously. Nor do I approve of bullying people or judging their worth or abilities because of their names, and believe that the pressure to change should be on the ones doing the bullying and that having a wider variety of "normal" names is a very good thing. I also think that much of it is very subjective and cultural, and it is very strange and arbitrary to me that it is okay for some names to be the same as other words (like girls named Lily or Faith) but others aren't (outside of something that is directly insulting like Stupidhead). I also am aware that my views on naming are probably very unpopular, too.

edited 6th Feb '13 1:36:44 PM by Rainbow

3 Wolf10666th Feb 2013 03:15:05 PM from New Zealand , Relationship Status: In my bunk
Typin' strangely
About all I get from "Katherine" is "parents prefered that spelling".

I'm also not big on stereotyping names - I grew up as a nerdy/geeky sort with the name of John. For contrast we had a very sports oriented good-at-rugby John and a pain-in-the-arse disruptive trouble-maker John in the same class as me at college. It's a name that's been used by kings, its Hebrew meaning is portentious, it's got hints of both dependability and anonymity when used as a stereotypical name in fiction.

But it's just a name and could just as easily be given to someone who grows up to be frail and timid as to someone who can kick Robin Hood's arse with a quarter-staff.

I'm a firm believer in giving people names that aren't typical of what the character's like - and lampshade-hanging be damned (unless one of the other characters is the sort who would comment on such things).
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4 JHM6th Feb 2013 03:57:03 PM from Neither Here Nor There , Relationship Status: Showing feelings of an almost human nature
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I have this odd habit of putting really low-key, esoteric symbolism in my characters' names. It's a kind of compromise between my desire to create names that would be realistic in context—that is, names that I think that parents would choose for their offspring, however curious—and my fondness for trivia and symbolic puzzle-boxes. Hence, you get interesting-but-reasonable names that wherein the appropriateness or irony is lost unless the reader has a very broad base of useless knowledge: Patrice Guénolé, L. Peredur Greer, Ossian Pulver, Richard Caterling, and so forth.
To me, most intentional usages of meaningful, prophetic, or otherwise matchy names rattle my suspension of disbelief. In most parts of the world, people are named by their parents when they're too young to have much of a personality, so to have that personality apparently shape itself to that name is just kinda stupid. Sure, certain names have developed symbolic literary connotations to the point that writers rarely use them for anything other than symbolism- Gertrude and Ophelia come to mind -but most writers aren't aiming to write literary study pieces.

Since I name my characters very early in their development cycle- it's usually the second thing I do after their one sentence concept description -any instances of Meaningful Name are coincidental and usually result in them matching in odd ways, if at all, such as a reality warping godlike character whose names both refer to water.
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6 nrjxll6th Feb 2013 05:17:57 PM , Relationship Status: Not war
As I may have mentioned from time to time, I'm with Wolf 1066 and Crystal Glacia on this. I generally pick names more or less at random (within the bounds of probability-for-that-setting), and I don't worry much about what connotations they might have, especially because those aren't as uniform as some people might think - while peasant is probably right that not many people would associate "Erwin" with Jerk Jocks, for instance, I doubt many people at all are likely to have the same answer to the main question.
7 MorwenEdhelwen6th Feb 2013 05:25:06 PM from Sydney, Australia
Aussie Tolkien freak
What about deliberately naming your characters after other characters? For example, I have a dwarf character called Thorin Eikinscialdi* as a reference to the character from The Hobbit. In-universe, it's a family name, and the character is basically "Thorin, direct (legitimate) descendant of Eikinscialdi" and a son of the chief.

edited 6th Feb '13 5:58:46 PM by MorwenEdhelwen

The road goes ever on.
8 nrjxll6th Feb 2013 05:30:06 PM , Relationship Status: Not war
There are exceptions to everything, but it's generally not a good idea.
9 MorwenEdhelwen6th Feb 2013 06:03:12 PM from Sydney, Australia
Aussie Tolkien freak
@Njrxll: well, mine is a reference.

edited 6th Feb '13 6:19:09 PM by MorwenEdhelwen

The road goes ever on.
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I just try to make names that would realistically fit with the setting. While helpful little accidents are appreciated (a soldier named Alan Mars, for instance) they're not sought after.
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I think it's interesting that a number here have commented that a name doesn't really inform much about a character and that it instead is more reflective about the character's parents; all the while forgetting that a character's parents - and by extension his/her upbringing, social class, etc - can tell us A LOT about a character.

In addition, the further you get from the lead characters, the less time, plot and focus you have for them. The facts are that you simply don't have the opportunity or pacing to inform the audience about each and every satellite character populating your story. As such, a strategic writer will consider all the tools available to him/her in communicating a working idea (of a character, in this case) to the audience. Otherwise, they would have nothing to work with. And one good short hand at a writer's disposal is the character's name.
12 MorwenEdhelwen6th Feb 2013 06:54:18 PM from Sydney, Australia
Aussie Tolkien freak
Can you name a group of characters after characters in your favourite writer's work?
The road goes ever on.
13 everyfloatingcat6th Feb 2013 07:12:45 PM , Relationship Status: Charming Titania with a donkey face
Unless I'm writing some kind of supernatural story, in which case you can get away with meaningful names on the basis of fate or whatever else (and even then I'd keep them low-key — for example, unless a reader had a working knowledge of Old English, it'd still come as a decent twist when "Feorh Scrín" turns out to be a Soul Jar), I tend to just randomly assign everyone's names, at most giving the ones I particularly like to the major characters, love interests, etc.

Though at the same time (and I guess this wouldn't be as relevant in countries like the US or Australia), it's true that certain names do come with connotations of ethnic, geographical or class heritage which could well have in-universe relevance. In that case, they can certainly provide some useful cultural context for the character, but it really depends on whether you think the author bothered to consider their naming conventions that deeply.

I'd think that deliberately choosing inappropriate names (like Melvin for a Jerk Jock) or unusual ones has the same problem as sticking with Meaningful Names, since it's relying on a rather easy shorthand to try to convey something about the character or establish them as unique and interesting.

As for peasant's Katherine, spelled with a K as opposed to the later Anglicised "Catherine", I'd personally draw connotations of the name's Greek and Norman origins, which would make me associate the character with old courtly French culture and the upper classes. I don't think there's anything consistent I could connect with it beyond that.

edited 6th Feb '13 7:17:30 PM by everyfloatingcat

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14 Night6th Feb 2013 07:22:44 PM from Jaburo , Relationship Status: Drift compatible
The future of warfare in UC.
As I am not attempting to appeal to an audience that would spend hours memorizing baby-name books, so I think this would be wasted effort 99% of the time.
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15 nrjxll6th Feb 2013 08:00:06 PM , Relationship Status: Not war
And one good short hand at a writer's disposal is the character's name.

To some degree, yes. But this benefit has to be weighed in the balance against the suspension-of-disbelief issues, and just plain groanworthiness that comes with a Meaningful Name. I don't find that weighing particularly favorable to it.
16 MorwenEdhelwen6th Feb 2013 08:09:12 PM from Sydney, Australia
Aussie Tolkien freak
I also have a character named Alexa, but that's because the story in question is inspired by "The Downeaster Alexa."
The road goes ever on.
Regarding characters who chose their own name: One of the hardest parts about that (at least for me in my experience)is coming up with why they chose that name for themselves. i.e Does the name have any significance to them, or did they just start calling themselves that because it sounds cool? Is it there real name or just an alias? Why would they name themselves that? I hope I'm making sense here. n_n;

How does everyone here feel about naming characters after something music-related (be it a song, lyrics to a song, an artist, instrument, album, etc.)?
You get more of a leeway for interesting-ish names in fiction. Because it's a designed world, you can get away with something that's a little beyond a John Smith sort of name. Unless that's your intent, like with John Carter (of Mars).

For me, it comes down to a combination of intent and subtlety. You can give your character some special name, sure. If you try to do it too hard though, you run the risk of sticking your hand right into the narrative and then every time that name comes up, they'll be reminded of the artifice, and it'll get less amusing each time.

A name can suggest traits, and names are not simply given to someone. An Alex can go by Al to just about everyone who knows him, or he could insist on Alexander, or maybe his last name is important to him so you remember him as Alex Mayers.
19 Wolf10667th Feb 2013 12:36:22 AM from New Zealand , Relationship Status: In my bunk
Typin' strangely
I did do a bit of an "apt" name for one of the characters in one WIP - one character out of a very large Ensemble Cast - who is a devout Christian by the name of Martin Bede.

All of his kids have Biblical names - John, Joshua, Sarah, Matthew and Mary - but that's because of their parents' religious leanings.

Since he's the only one out of all the characters with such a name, I'm planning to pass it off as one of those weird and unimportant coincidences that life throws our way.
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Total posts: 19