The shape of names

For me, personal names (first, middle, and last) actually form a shape in my mind. I rely on this quirk of synethesia when coming up with character names for my stories. If the name feels jagged or frayed to me then it will likely sit uneasily with readers. I don’t necessarily throw these names away, as they can be good for identifying antagonists. But if it feels smooth, or round like a ball – easy to roll off the tongue – then readers are more likely to remember them and identify them as the protagonist without having to outright address those issues.

I think about my own name and how I might be perceived by others, because I’m certain I’m not the only one who has this quirk. When said quickly it sounds like my name is Sharon Negan, and people have often made this mistake. I am actually Sharon Egan. Lately I have found myself dropping my middle name into the equation for clarity and because I have come to like the shape of it. Sharon Marie Egan. It’s like a gently undulating plain, the kind I used to romp around as a child. What shape does your name have and how to do you decide on the shapes of your character’s names?


About Sharon

Writer, bibliophile, dreamer and student of everything
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13 Responses to The shape of names

  1. Linda says:

    I’m sorry to say I don’t care for either of my given names: Linda Kay. So, I’m not happy with any configuration of my first, middle, maiden, or married names. I have a sister named Deborah Colleen. I think I should have been given at least one of those! 🙂

    So I try to have fun picking character names, but sometimes they name themselves. It’s a tricky thing though, for reasons like Calliopespen said, and because readers may have a bad association with a name you love. I think you just have to be true to your vision of a character when you choose the name and hope for the best.

    • Linda Kay – Debbi Kay also commented here on her name. Character names have to be reasonable, without being too common. Names may seem like arbitrary things, and while they don’t define our characters – our own and those in our books – they are sort of like our brand, a trademark if you will.

  2. Debbi says:

    Imagine that! My sister is also Sharon Marie!

    Where I grew up, they raise a lot of dairy cows, and there used to be a small beauty pageant called Princess Kay of the Milky Way. My middle name is Kay, and my mom used to call me Princess Debbi Kay of the Milky Way. (Miss you, Mama!)

    I never thought of “seeing” names, but I do think the name has to sound right. The main character in my much-talked-about-but never-actually-happens book is called Simon Sinclair, which I thought had a nice sound. His love interest will be Kari Larsdotter. (The story takes place in early 17th century in Scotland and Norway.) I chose names that were used during that time in those places, but they still had to sound right!

    • Debbi – wow. Your sister must be really cool! Princess Debbi Kay of the Milky Way is beautiful and must have made you feel special.
      I can’t read books that are not historically accurate. I agree that the names have to be authentic and sound right too.

      • Debbi says:

        My sister is very cool!

        Both of my sisters got such pretty names — Sharon and Janene — and I got such a boring, ordinary name — just Debbi, which is why I spell it just a little differently. I was always so jealous of their names, but they say I got all the b**bs and didn’t leave any for them, so maybe I got the better end of the deal!

  3. Heather Conroy says:

    I am Marie in the middle as well-sounds melodic to add it in there so sometimes I do.

    I agree about difficult to pronounce “foreign” names when reading and I often substitute my own version and it helps!

  4. calliopespen says:

    Your full name does sound beautiful, Sharon! So funny, I just wrote a poem about a wonderful naming mistake from a commentor which took me on a glorious imaginery ride. It is so true–a name carries with it so much weight (and often too much baggage;) ) When I do decide to venture into prose I know I will give very careful, probably almost excessive consideration to my characters’ names.

    You know, as I sit here typing this I am thinking about a book I read not long ago, set in India where each character’s name was, not surprisingly, Indian. I had such a difficult time connecting with the characters because I kept stumbling over the pronunciation of their names. I’m sure most people would struggle with a polysyllabic foreign name too, but it affected my relationship with the characters so much I know I lost the full impact of the story.

    Thanks for the food for thought, as usual:) Hope to stop by more often after work slows down to a more manageable pace:)

    • Linda says:

      This is one reason why I don’t enjoy reading hardcore fantasy, I can rarely pronounce the names of people, places OR things.

      • Linda, sometimes the names are ridiculously complicated and to me are a mark of an authors inexperience rather than imagination. I believe every writer should write to accommodate both their audience and their own imagination.

    • Hi Danielle, I can empathise with the foreign name conundrum. I too found that unpronounceable names inhibited the reading experience. Sometimes books are written for a different linguistic audience and translated into English and it wouldn’t be authentic to change the names – however, my mother recently worked with a group of visiting Chinese people from Beijing, and many of them had Anglo names to accommodate their hosts. Still, my mother did her best to use their real names as they did hers.

  5. My daugher is Marie too! Great name. Along with her mama she brought elegance to a country boy’s life.

    Dr. B

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