Guest Post~Character Names: Have You Heard This One? by Kenda Turner

Today we have a fantastic guest post from Kenda Turner. If you haven't visited her blog, Words and Such, don't wait. This article will come in handy if you're in the middle of naming your NaNoWriMo characters. Kenda includes lots of resources at the end!
Character Names: Have You Heard This One? by Kenda Turner 
 
"Always end the name of your child with a vowel, so that when you yell the name will carry."
                                                                                                                                 --Bill Cosby


I recently came across the following statement in a book on novel writing. I'd never heard this "rule" before. Have you? 

"Choose names with long vowel sounds for principal characters, shorter for lesser."

No discussion of why followed. And since I'd never heard this before (and with apologies to the author for not accepting the idea at face value), I decided to put the theory to the test by conducting an informal poll on main character names. I took the names from books I have on my shelf, particularly classics and Newbery award winning authors since they've stood the test of time. Here's my list:

                         Long                                                                            Short
Jo, Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)                                             Scarlett, Gone With the Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
Mary, The Secret Garden (Frances H. Burnett)                    Meg, A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L'Engle)
Andi, Revolution (Jennifer Donelly)                                           Anne, Anne of Green Gables (Luci Maud Montgomery)   
Tilly, The River Between Us (Richard Peck)                        Miranda, When You Reach Me (Rebecca Stead)
Zola, The Unfinished Angel (Sharon Creech)                       Jess, Bridge to Terabithia (Katherine Paterson)
Abilene, Moon Over Manifest (Clare Vanderpool)             Mibs, Savvy (Ingrid Law)
Jethro, Across Five Aprils (Irene Hunt)                                    Kit, The Witch of Blackbird Pond (Elizabeth George Spears)


As you can see, the results ended in a tie.

After this, I went back and checked the last names on the short-vowel list, and found that four of  the seven carried long-vowel sounds, three short. Not quite a tie there, but close.

So I asked myself, do vowel sounds carry that much weight? Or are there other considerations for choosing character names?

Actually there are. One of the best ways is get to know the characters--their personalities, quirks, and backgrounds. This way, the "ear" will be more open to the name that fits. Not only that, but names should be chosen with an ear to historical and cultural accuracy. Also, ideas for names can come from a variety of sources, like baby name books, lists of names popular to an era, movie and tv credits, business directories, old yearbooks, phone books--sometimes even cemeteries. For some writers, the name's meaning is important, for others it is simply a matter of what "feels" right. Yes, it boils down to how a name sounds, but not only because of long or short vowels.

And, unlike Bill Cosby's reason for choosing a child's name ending in a vowel, if we utilize other resources, we'll have no reason to yell. The name will carry itself.

At least that's what I think. What do you think?

p.s. for some good guidelines (not rules!) to aid in choosing character names, you might want to check out these sources:
How To Give Your Character the Perfect Name, Writer's Digest
Name That Character, Top Ten Tips, The Script Lab
Tips for Writers on Naming Fictional Characters, Baby Names
Eight Things to Keep in Mind When Naming Characters, Jody Hedlund
Name That Character, Writing World

*photo courtesy of www.sxc.hu
is a writer, wife, mother, and grandmother for whom the writing bug took hold early on and won't shake loose. She likes books (of course), walks in all seasons, photography, local history. She would like to see her children's books published. She'd also like to learn Spanish and Portuguese since her grandkids are being raised in bilingual homes--but that might be a greater challenge than getting published.

How do you come up with character names? Any more resources we should know about?

9 comments:

  1. How interesting. I never really thought about the vowel sounds in a name before. But I do pay attention to how a name sounds in the context of the story. If I decide to change a name, the new name needs to have the same number of syllables as the old one, or it doesn't seem to fit.

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  2. I loved reading this info over at Kenda's blog, and it really makes me think to read over it again here. Names are something I occasionally struggle with, so this is a great post for me :)

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  3. That's really interesting, Andrea! I have two characters who have really similar names. I get them mixed up so my readers will, too. One of them needs to change!

    Jess, I hope Kenda's great resources help out with your names.

    ~Debbie

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  4. Thanks so much, Debbie, for inviting me to be your guest--appreciate your support!

    And Andrea, the importance of vowel sounds never crossed my mind, either, until I stumbled on this quote. And though I might consider a name with this in mind in the future, like you I will pay more attention to how the name sounds in the overall story context. It's got to fit for more reasons than one!

    Jess--great to meet up with you over here at Debbie's! Glad the post is helpful :-)

    Have a great day, everyone...

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  5. Bill Cosby - that made me smile. Well I'm relieved to hear that the long/short vowels both appear in famous character names!

    I think antagonists seem to get away with longer, trickier names than heros (Voldemort, Harry) but one helpful advice I received from a crit partner once was I had too many characters starting with the letter "S" so I've watched out for too- similar names ever since. Which also might explain why the first time I read Lord of the Rings, I kept mixing up Saruman with Sauron. :)

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  6. I don't write much fiction, but I loved this post so much I'm forwarding the link to a friend. We were just having a big discussion about character names.

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  7. Margo--I got those 's' characters mixed up, too! And visually (at first) I confused Gandalf with Saruman. I'm hopeless.

    Amy--thanks so much for sharing Kenda's post!

    ~Debbie

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  8. Thanks for great information, Debbie :-) I will check out her site and her youtube channel. I hope to do NaNoWriMo, but November is so heavy with obligations. Still trying to clear my way for it :-) Again, thanks so much for such a timely post!

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  9. The way I look at Nanowrimo is that anything I get done is more than I would have otherwise. I've never made the 50K, but that's all right.

    ~Debbie

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