Thursday, February 19, 2015
What's in a Name? ... by Patricia Smith Wood
In my case, it was the “name du jour” for little girls the year I was born. The previous year’s Miss America was a “Patricia.” It had been agreed that if I was a girl, my mother got to choose the name, and her choice was Patricia. If I was a boy, my young father would choose. Because he had seen the musical movie “Show Boat” the year before, he became enamored with the riverboat gambler character. So, had I been born male, this column would be written by Gaylord Ravenal Smith. Thank God I escaped having that cross to bear throughout life.
Growing up I found an abundance of girls my age named Patricia. In my second grade class there were three besides me. I ended up as “Patsy” that year to help the teacher keep us all straight. There’s nothing wrong with the name “Patsy”—I just didn’t happen to like it. It took a while to recapture my preferred nickname—Pat.
I never disliked my own name, but I know plenty of people who’ve rebelled at the moniker they were given at birth. Some even choose to change it when they reach adulthood. Which brings me to naming fictional characters.
Writers have a wonderful advantage when assigning names to the people who spring from their keyboard. They can clue us in about the character though the name they choose. A stout older woman, secretary to the boss, wearing sensible shoes and dowdy clothing, might be named something like Frieda Gump, thereby creating a picture in the reader’s mind. Naming that woman Mary wouldn’t tell us nearly as much. To me, that’s a fun part of writing a story, but it has its pitfalls.
It’s also a good idea to read the story aloud and see how the names roll off the tongue. I recently decided to change the first name of a major character because when I got around to reading the book to my writers critique group, the first and last names sounded awkward together. I found myself stumbling and tripping over that particular combination of syllables. I would never have realized my error had I simply read the material silently to myself.
While I worked on my last book, I discovered a great resource for choosing character names. Google “Random Name Generator” on the internet. It’s free and you can select first names for either male or female, along with last names. I’ve enjoyed exploring the possibilities by mixing the first and last names offered. I eventually find just the right combination to fit a character.
Often writers choose to use a friend or relative’s name in fiction. If you do, make sure, 1) the character receiving that name will not reflect badly on the friend or relative, or 2) ask that person if they mind having their name used in your story. I’ve found most people are pleased at the prospect, but you never know when that might not be the case, so check first. It will save you grief down the line.
Feel free to name one of your characters Patricia. I know I won’t mind. In fact, I’d be downright pleased if you did!
Patricia is giving away one copy of The Easter Egg Murder to a U.S. or Canada resident who leaves a comment on this post before Tuesday midnight Mountain Time February 24th. The winner will be announced here on Wednesday the 25th.
Patricia Smith Wood’s father was a career FBI agent, sparking her interest in law, solving crime, and mystery.
After retiring from a varied and successful business career (including eighteen months working at the FBI, being a security officer at a savings & loan, and owning her own computer business) she attended writing seminars, conferences, and in 2009 graduated from the FBI Citizens’ Academy. Aakenbaaken & Kent published her first mystery, The Easter Egg Murder, in 2013. Set in New Mexico and based on a real unsolved murder, it was a finalist in the 2013 New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards for Best Mystery and Best First Book. Murder on Sagebrush Lane, the second in the series, will also be published by Aakenbaaken & Kent in early spring, 2015.
Learn more about Patricia and her mysteries at her website and blog. She can also be found on Facebook and Goodreads.