What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, or would it?
All writers, I assume, have a process for the selection of character names. This is how I do it. I have the story situation and a theme I’m writing toward in mind. I then “audition” characters to play the part. In Another Memory, my protagonist is fighting for a real life, rather than a shadow life where all she does is go through the motions.
For this story I needed someone tough, but also soft on the inside. In a word, she needed to be vulnerable. So what’s a good name for someone like that? I thought of the actor Forest Whitaker. He’s a big man, but comes across as sensitive. Whitaker; that will be my character’s last name, I decided.
For a first name I thought the character needed something not too heavy or serious because her life was serious enough. I didn’t want an Elizabeth, Millicent, Cynthia, or Monique. All perfectly fine names, but they didn’t speak to me although their shortened versions could have possibly worked. So, okay. What are some choices around me…family or perhaps a name that I randomly pick from a newspaper or magazine?
Hmm. I have a cousin named Chelly. The “chell” like “shell” part worked in the sense of a coat of armor, yet the “ly” gave it a softness like an upturned curlicue, which suggests hope of good things to come.
Did I look up Chelly to see what it meant? No, to be honest, I usually do at some point, but I didn’t. So, I’ll do it now at my favorite place to look up name meanings… http://www.kabalarians.com/index.cfm.
Here are three of the characteristics listed:
· The name of Chelly creates a very versatile and creative nature.
· You are quick-minded and have the freedom of expression to mix easily with people.
· Although you appear positive, you inwardly lack self-confidence and will-power.
Those characteristics work well with how I needed the Chelly in my story to approach life. That site is nice, but even if Chelly meant something totally adverse to my vision of her, I probably would have used the name anyway.
What did others think of my name choice? Well, one writing buddy in particular wondered, “If it’s pronounced Chelly with an /sh/ sound, why not save the reader a moment of confusion and spell it Shelly?” Valid point except I felt Chelly was a fairly common spelling and I’ve never met a Chelly who pronounces her name with a /ch/ as in chair. Have you? Besides, the reader gets to decide how she or he reads a character name in her or his head anyway, no matter what the writer intended. And finally, Chelly is how my cousin spells her name. I did run it by my cousin though, on the off chance she would read the book and take issue with it.
Voila! Chelly Whitaker is my protagonist’s name.
What are your thoughts on selecting character names?