All that’s in a Name?

 (Photo by me.)
(Photo by me.)

Yesterday, volunteering at the kidlet’s playschool, I was struck by the significance of names, which of course is probably in large part because I’m a writer and I think about that sort of thing.

Yet how could you not think of this when children with “stronger” or more forceful names tended to be the ones with stronger, more forceful personalities (aka: also the ones who aren’t quite as good at listening or playing nice; the kidlet falls into this category.) The ones with “quieter” names were likewise shy, quieter children.

Some of these connotations we associate with names has to do with our own personal experiences, certainly. But could it be that there’s some truth that a “Jennifer” is, well, a Jennifer? What about a name like Steven or Charlie? How often have you met a rather shy and reserved Matthew?* What makes us like some names and dislike others?

As writers, like parents, we give our characters names, and there is something chicken-and-egg about the scenario. If we give the character (or child) a softer, milder “type” of name, does that mean we expect and will create a softer, milder kind of character to match it? Does being called by that name start to squish and squash them until they suit the name?

When the kidlet was born, I had a hard time figuring out what to name her – she was an yet “unformed” creature to me. I’d hardly met her to know her personality. Characters, on the other hand, are different, since often before they even have a name, I’ve got a good idea about “who” they are, and will become.

Yet we must also be at least aware that our readers are going to bring to the reading experience different connotations that go with a name. In the book-that-won’t-die (and that I’m rewriting. Again. Sigh) my protagonist’s name is Logan. And you would not believe how many people are convinced he has dark hair (although in the book, he does not.) This is related to the connotations associated with the name, especially with a certain Wolverine character played most yummily by Hugh Jackman – with dark hair.

Now, by saying we should be at least aware of our reader’s preconceptions and connotations related to names (and story altogether), that is not to say I think we should follow type. After all, for every quiet, reserved Matthew, perhaps there is one out there who doesn’t suit his name, who is rambunctious, the life of the party. Does this mean he’s misnamed … or perhaps just that a person has their own personality regardless of their name?

Now it’s your turn to leave a comment. So what do you think? Do you have connotations associated with names? How do you approach them? Or am I the only one obsessed watching the playschool kids act out their named personalities? 😉

*Do note, none of these are actual names of students.

Thanks for reading. Have a great week, happy writing, and see you next week.