On Naming Characters, or: Sorry, Barney

Characters, I’ve named a few. And it seems like some names are sexy, or at least pleasing, and some aren’t. This goes for first-name last-name combinations as well.

For example: I would put it to you that Alexander is a sexy name; but Barney isn’t. I totally admit that this is a snap judgement on my part, but isn’t that what we do all the time when it comes to names? Use them to make a snap judgement about basically anything – class, nationality, gender, ethnicity, personality etc etc ad infinitum?

In part this is to do with a name’s past associations and connotations for each of us as individuals. When I hear ‘Barney’ I think of Barney Gumble, or maybe that giant smug dinosaur who was a thing in the 90s. On the other hand, maybe your first love was named Barney and he was sexy as hell. Unlikely, but not impossible.

But that’s not the whole story, is it? There’s something about the sound of a word – the number of hard and soft sounds, the music and rhythm of it, whether its vowels are long or clipped. I say ‘Alexander’ and I hear a string quartet in a drawing room, or the hooves of a horse pounding through an open field.

I say ‘Barney’, and I hear someone hurling their guts up in an alley (maybe because there are echoes of ‘barf’ in the word?)

There’s a music to matching a first and last name too. ‘Alexander Bell’ sounds great (to my ear – then again, I think I’m just poaching most of the name of the guy who invented the telephone). Alexander Anderson sounds a bit strange, with the repeated sounds; not bad exactly, but maybe distracting. Alexander Morgendorffer is a slightly awkward half-rhyme (though if he was related to Daria, I would definitely want to meet him). You get the picture.

Then there’s the way people associate names and traits. Try it out at ‘Behind the Name’ (type in any name and click on ‘Ratings’). ‘Eva’ (ahem), for example, is considered a ‘good’ name by 77% of voters (not bad, Nightingale). It’s also considered ‘feminine’ by 97% of people, ‘refined’ by 79%, and ‘wholesome’ by 75%.

Why? Who knows. Some heady mixture of culture, history, and past use, I imagine.

These sorts of associations can be helpful to all authors, but to romance and erotic romance writers they’re particularly useful in deciding which names to use and which to discard. Desire is at the forefront for us. I imagine you want to control whether your characters come across as classic or modern, delicate or strong, serious or comedic…sexy or a big bucket of iced water.

Your character’s name tells the reader something before they’ve even opened their mouths or torn off their shirts. Why not use it to your advantage?

And if you don’t believe me, just think of Dickens – could you imagine your heroine waking up to Uriah Heep or Ebenezer Scrooge?

 

 

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