What is in the name?

Writers always strive to find perfect names for their characters. The best name reflects the personality and sometimes even the appearance of its bearer. Speaking for myself, I can’t write a story until I know my heroine’s name. In one of my fantasy short stories, I went through at least a dozen names before I hit on the right one, and I knew it the moment I typed it.

Often, a name depends on a genre. A Regency romance heroine, especially a duchess, could be called Annabelle, but if she lives in an American mining town in the 1850s and works as a laundress, would the name Annabelle fit as well? Maybe it would be better to call her Mary or Iris? And what if she is called Senneth? Then it is probably a speculative fiction novel (actually, it is a fantasy series by Sharon Shinn).

In some fantasy novels, writers insist that a person’s true name has a special meaning, and someone knowing that name could have extraordinary powers over that man, or woman, or demon, or elf.

I read a research once which suggested it might also be correct in our own, decidedly non-fantasy world. The researcher (ironically, I don’t remember his name) stated that people with the same name frequently exhibit the same character traits or mannerisms. For example: many Elizabeths are bossy; many Kerries are assertive and overweight; many Tanyas are open and practical. Have you noticed the same phenomenon? Strangely enough, I find it a plausible hypothesis.

The researcher explained his theory by the identical sound waves the same name produces when spoken. During childhood, a person is exposed to his name more often than to any other word. The name’s continuously repeated audio sequence influences the child’s brain development, makes some character traits more probable than others. Of course it is not a math problem, where two and two always make four, but more like a statistical equation, a matter of big numbers.

I think writers, perhaps unconsciously, subscribe to similar beliefs. When a writer names her character Jane, she has a certain personality in mind. She would have a different personality in mind for a character named Vivien. I wonder if any literary scholar ever made a comparison of all the Viviens in fiction. Would a large percentage of them have characteristics that match?

And what about my pet peeve – initials, the names like PJ or TK? I hate those names. They reflect nothing; have no emotional connotation of any kind. Rather they remind me of a designation of some gadget, like PPG (a weapon from Babylon 5). I know some real people opt for such names but I don’t understand them. Neither do I understand fiction writers who give such names to their heroes. There is such a variety of beautiful and meaningful names out there. Why would a writer disregard all those names and label his hero by a couple of capitals, like a bolt or a screw?

A tidbit about my own name: I’m a journalist. I use a pen name for fiction, Olga Godim, but my newspaper articles all have a different byline. I have a reason for such an incongruity. I started writing late in life. Before that, I was a computer programmer. When I submitted my first fantasy stories to magazines, I was still working at my computer job and I felt slightly embarrassed by my fantastic tales. Women of my age and profession didn’t entertain themselves with tales of sword and magic. Or so I thought. So I decided to use a pseudonym. Olga is my first name, and Godim was my father’s first name. He died before I published my first piece, before I even started thinking about writing, but I wanted him to be a part of my writing life, so I chose his name as my nom de plume.  Now, he’s always with me, a witness to my successes and failures as a writer. And I think the name sounds good, like a small cheerful bell: Go-dim. It fits my fantasy stories.


1 Comment

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One response to “What is in the name?

  1. Congrats with your first post., Olga A great story, Olga. Honoring your father by using is name is a wonderful tribute. Given the stories I write, my father would turn over in his grave if I used his name. Rita

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