Posts Tagged ‘Naming Characters’

Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Fred and Barney? Some characters’ names are self-explanatory. Others require contemplation.

My blog, THE NAME GAME, explained how my father named me after a character in a Zane Grey western. The character, Terrill Lambeth, carried the name of her uncle who had died in the Civil War.

This is how Grey described the event on the first page of West of the Pecos.

“The baby came and it was a girl. This disappointment was the second of Lambeth’s life, and the greater. Lambeth never reconciled himself to what he considered a scurvy trick of fate….He never changed the name Terrill. And though he could not help loving Terrill as a daughter, he exulted in her tomboy tendencies…”

I don’t want to imply that my gender disappointed my father. It didn’t. I had an older brother already and my dad had hoped for a girl. He called me his “little princess.”

Grey sets up Templeton’s motivation to raise his daughter to have the strength and courage expected of a man. She needs to be as tenacious as a man to save the family’s Texas ranch.

(No arguments, please. I agree with you about those qualities being equally present in men and women. Grey wrote within the parameters set by the social culture of his time. Forgive him.)

Do you see how giving Terrill a man’s name sets the reader’s expectations? With a man’s name, she must be as strong and daring as any male hero.

Let me give some more examples of crafty character naming.

Movie Characters, Daisy Buchanan & Jay Gatsby

Author F. Scott Fitzgerald

Characters, Jordan Baker & Nick Carraway

If you haven’t read The Great Gatsby by the American author, F. Scott Fitzgerald, I highly recommend it. Or rent the 1974 movie with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. It’s a bonus to see Redford in his prime. He’s dreamy even in the pink suit costume designer, Edith Head used for the movie’s tense climactic scene.

Of course, the book is better than the movie.

Fitzgerald chooses names wisely to reflect his characters’ personalities. I’ll examine three.

We know little about Jay Gatsby, the New York millionaire who gives lavish parties, but never attends them. Some say he was a war hero. Some say, a murderer.

SPOILER ALERT

By the end of the book, we discover Gatsby had been born poor and made his fortune illegally as a bootlegger, all to impress Daisy, the wealthy, society woman he lost and wants to win back.

We learn from Gatsby’s father that Jay was born James Gatz. (His father called him Jimmy.) The fact that he changed his name aligns well with his goal to reinvent himself. Lengthen your last name, shorten the first name and, voila—you’re a new man. It’s interesting Fitzgerald didn’t even give Gatsby an entire first name. The initial “J” is more mysterious, don’t you think?

I saw the Gatsby movie in the summer of 1974 in Iowa City, IA. I was visiting my friend, Pam Lyons. We had been editors together on the Benson High News. A freshman, she was studying Journalism at the University of Iowa. The U of I is home of the famous creative writing program—the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

After the movie, Pam and I grabbed a Pepsi for our critique. We were just two literature nerds discussing the foreshadowing, symbolism, and character names. Good times.

Here’s where my memory has played tricks on me. Pam was taking a German class and we looked up the name Gatz and Gatsby in her German dictionary. (Yeah, that’s what writing geeks do.) I could have sworn that we had discovered one of the renditions meant “host” in German. Today, when I Googled “Gatz/Gatsby” to fact-check, I couldn’t confirm that definition.

So, if anyone has a German dictionary or is fluent in German, drop me a line. It would be great to know if I have a faulty memory or whether I’m just fictionalizing again.

If Gatz/Gatsby does mean “host,” it’s a perfect name for the character.

Daisy Buchanan is Jay Gatsby’s one true love. The name makes perfect sense. Daisy is a summer flower, delicate, beautiful. Just like the character. By the end of the summer—in real life and in the book—Daisy is lost. Until another season.

Jordan Baker is Daisy’s wild friend. Daisy wants Nick, (her cousin and Gatsby’s only friend) to get involved with Jordan. Timelessly beautiful, Jordan is a professional golfer, who isn’t beyond cheating to get what she wants. She plays life fast and loose.

1909 Baker Runabout

It’s rumored that Fitzgerald combined the name of two popular car companies to form the character’s name.

Jordan Motor Company produced a model called the Playboy, projecting the image to support the woman’s “fast” reputation.

Baker Motor Vehicles provided automobiles for the White House fleet, promoting the image of the character’s elegance and high social standing.

I tend to simplify the symbolism in the names I choose for my characters.

Amanda Cash is the heroine in Luck of the Draw. She needs money. Doesn’t have enough. Gets to decide who deserves $200 million that an anonymous lottery winner wants to give away.

For my Harmony Hills series, I get to use names from my mother’s generation. I love this opportunity. Simply, love it!

Kay Powers—I want her have a strong name.

Vita Orsi—She’s Italian. Vita means “life” and she’s sure full of that.

Audrey Campbell—I want to invoke the grace and softness of Audrey Hepburn. Then I turn that image on its ear by dressing her in Gothic black corsets and fingerless, leather gloves.

Here are a couple of resources on my bookshelf.

100,000+ Baby Names by Bruce Lansky

Character Naming Sourcebook by Sherrilyn Kenyon

I also like to run a name through this website to check the description.

http://www.kabalarians.com/cfm/what-does-my-name-mean.cfm

Take a minute to look up your name. Does the meaning match your personality?

For more information about the Iowa Writers’ Workshop for creative writing, here’s the link.

http://www.uiowa.edu/~iww/

Until next time…

Read some fiction. Feed your imagination and watch it grow.

The Name Game

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

Growing up, I had a love/hate relationship with my name. My paternal grandparents, whom I saw often, proudly called me Teryl or Teryl Diane. Not because of anything I did to deserve admiration, although I was a pretty amazing kid. They liked the name because their son tagged me with it.

Author Zane Grey

My dad named me after the heroine in a Zane Grey western he’d read as a boy. West of the Pecos was copyrighted in 1931 and reprinted in 1938, when my father was eleven. It is part of the five-book collection he received for his birthday or Christmas. I assume it came from his parents, or possibly his Aunt Irene, as she doted on him. She had more money than my grandparents, but that’s not saying much since my father grew up in the Depression. Most everyone my family knew lived hand to mouth. How the books became his “library” is pure speculation since there is no surviving relative with whom I can verify my assumptions.

Notice how I used quotation marks around “library?” It’s a writing device to catch the reader’s attention. Did it work?

These five Zane Grey novels, which proudly sit on my shelf, were the only books my father ever owned as a boy.

Impossible to imagine, right?

Getting back to my love/hate relationship. Everyone called me Teryl through kindergarten. On the initial day of first grade, tragedy erupted. This is how I remember the scene.

Teacher: “Is James Miller in the room?”

James: “Here.”

Teacher: “Debra Moore?”

Debra: “Present.”

Teacher: “T..Te..Ter…Turtle.. Tur-rell Myers”

You can see why the children laughed and I cringed.

Embarrassed, I clarified it for her. Teryl rhymes with Cheryl. It’s a phrase I’ve repeated often as most people have never run across my unique moniker. I don’t want people to feel stupid if they mispronounce my name, so I try to preempt the embarrassment.

Teryl rhymes with Cheryl. Everybody knows a Cheryl.

For a while, in the last decade, I joined some dating services. I wanted potential suitors to be surprised, a little jolted, definitely intrigued by my unusual name. I hoped to stand out in the crowd. I updated my mantra to sound more alluring. “Teryl rhymes with Meryl—as in Meryl Streep.” Imagine my sexy impersonation of the great actress—in say, “The French Lieutenant’s Woman.”

Teryl, as in Meryl—Meryl Streep.

I never want to leave a reader hanging, so let me finish the story of poor Turtle Myers. The teacher gained control of the raucous six-year-olds with a firm, “Settle down, now.”

Snickers lingered.

My parents, Clarence and Frances Myers. I'm there, too.

On the spot, I made up my nickname, “Terry.”

You might think it odd that I chose the boy’s spelling of the name. I didn’t know any better. Most girls, as I soon discovered, spell the name with an “i” –Teri or Terri. After several people pointed that out, shame forced me to switch the spelling to Terrie. That iteration lasted the first semester of third grade.

I could tell you that I’d cleverly extracted the “y” from Teryl for my nickname. At six years old, I wasn’t that shrewd. I spelled it that way because my mother spelled her nickname with a “y.” My mom, Frances Jeraldean Myers, had been nicknamed “Jerry.” (That’s a story for later.)

Over the years, a few friends have called me Teryl, and I like it, but most people call me Terry. I sat in a quandary for months trying to figure out what name to use for publication. Terry or Teryl? Or maybe a pseudonym.? For a while, I spent more time trying to decide on my pen name than I did writing the book of my heart.

One friend, Joe Lipsey, suggested the nom de plume, “Palmer Grayson,” because he thought it sounded very sophisticated, gender neutral, and could work with whatever genre I finally decided to write—romance or mystery. I hadn’t chosen one yet. (Yes, I was at that confusing stage of writing.)

Another friend, Ann Adams, suggested I use “Mya Dane” – cleverly crafted from my maiden name, Myers, and my middle name, Diane. It sounded like a perfect pseudonym until I Googled it and found a porn star had already snagged the name for her professional use.

The same witty friend also suggested the pseudonym, Stephen King, since that author had suspended (temporarily, thank God) his writing career.

When push came to shove, and I’d finally found a publishing home for my first novel, Luck of the Draw, I had to make a decision on the name for the cover. My author name. To be recorded forever in the Library of Congress. On my first book.

To honor my father, I chose Teryl. To honor my husband, I chose Oswald.

For this essay, I Googled famous Teryls. None. A quick search of all derivations found Terrell Owens and Terrell Thomas. Both professional football players.

Read the book West of the Pecos. You’ll discover the heroine, Terrill, (as it was spelled in the novel) was named after her uncle who had died in the Civil War.

I had never come face to face with another Teryl (male or female) until recently when I had the pleasure of meeting the lovely owner of Terryl’s Flower Garden in Omaha, Nebraska. I felt a kindred spirit despite the fact she spells her name with two “r’s”. I told her the story of how my father chose my name. She admitted, amazingly, Zane Grey was her favorite novelist when she was young. Check out her beautiful floral work. http://www.terrylsflowergarden.com/

There was a popular song released in 1964 called “The Name Game,” written by Shirley Ellis and Lincoln Chase. Shirley Ellis recorded it.

Come on, you remember it. Sing along.

The name game!

Shirley!

Shirley, Shirley bo Birley Bonana fanna fo Firley

Fee fy mo Mirley, Shirley!

Lincoln!

Lincoln, Lincoln bo Bincoln Bonana fanna fo Fincoln

Fee fy mo Mincoln, Lincoln!

My brothers and I played the Name Game on car trips with our folks. We would start with our own names –Steve, Terry, Tim, and then insert a variety of first names. We laughed and feigned innocence when a “naughty” rhyme echoed throughout the 1966 Pontiac.

What’s in a name? A lot, as you can see.

One of my favorite parts of writing is choosing the characters’ names. Successful naming is important because it helps to develop the reader’s image of the character. A carefully chosen name helps to determine the emotion the reader feels for the character.

I’ll tell you more about that in a future blog. And by the way, the baby name book I use to research character names reports that “Teryl” means “Thunder Ruler.”

Yep. That’s me.

Until then…choose something fictional to read. Feed your imagination and watch it grow.

I found “The Name Game” lyrics on the following website. Thank you, very much, Digital Dream Door.

http://www.digitaldreamdoor.com/pages/lyrics2/nov_namegame.html

I credit Wikipedia for the photo of Zane Grey.