Name Calling

Suzanne Kamata and I are doing a bunch of name calling at her blog Gaijin Mama. Here's the lead in:

Any of us who are parents know how important a name is. A name has the power to shape the impression others have of us before they even meet us. Would you ever believe that someone named Bill Bailey would be a rock star? What if his name was Axl Rose? Could Eleanor Gow rock the cover of Sports Illustrated? She did, under the name Elle Macpherson. Who would you be more interested in: Paul Hewson or Bono, Cherilyn Sarkisian or Cher, Mary Cathleen Collins or Bo Derek?

Planning your summer vacation? Why not visit Square Butte, Montana, or Elephant Butte, New Mexico? If those don’t sound good, you can go to Hell—Michigan, that is, about an hour west of Detroit.

What's in a name and how do writers choose monikers for their characters? Well, come on over and tell us how you do it!


Mary Witzl said...

Both Charlie Pride and Kris Kristofferson (country-western singers -- I'm a big fan despite myself) were told to change their names if they wanted their songs to sell. They refused to do this, and their songs sold just fine. Sometimes the talent just pushes right past the label.

And I have GOT to go to Square Butt! (You sure there's not an E on 'Butt...?' I hope there isn't.)

Mary Witzl said...

Ooh: I forgot to answer your question!

I leave characters unnamed until I find the absolute perfect name for them. Sometimes the names come in dreams; sometimes I see them in newspapers or the phone book. (Reading the directory CAN be fun!) For my less-than-wonderful characters, I use names of kid bullies I remember, rendered into more modern forms.

Danette Haworth said...

Oh no! Mary, you're right! Square Butte has an E. Bummer drag, so much funnier without, but thanks for pointing it out to me--I fixed it in the post.

Haha! I laughed at your kid bullies strategy--the final revenge!

Charles Gramlich said...

It's definitely something to think about when you're choosing character names. I sometimes agonize over it.

Kim Kasch said...

Love the idea of vacation - not so sure I'd like to go to Hell though ;)

Sheri said...

What's the population of Hell, Michigan? I mean, who would live there? Who would name it that? Was it someone - a mayor - who lost an election and in spite named the town Hell? There has to be a story behind that?

Most of the time, characters "tell" me their names. Sounds so "crazy-lady-writer" but it's true. When the name is right, it just clicks.

Stella said...

My characters seem to whisper their names in my ear - sometimes while I'm in the shower, sometimes while I'm driving to work or cooking dinner. Rarely when I'm sitting in front of my computer trying to think of a name for them.

I remember Hell, Michigan. I had a friend who had a t-shirt that said something like, "I've been to Hell and back". By the way, I saw your book at the Scholastic Book Fair last week. I have a copy or two on order for the 2009-10 school year.

Augusta Scattergood said...

I have a coffee mug -- but sadly no teeshirt- from a place called Hot Dog Johnny's. Everybody loves the teeshirts because they proudly announce that Hot Dog Johnny's is in BUTTZVILLE, NJ.

Pretty good hot dogs, too.