Monday, October 11, 2010

Does A Name Really Matter?

I know this has been discussed around the Webs before, but an incident with my son this weekend brought it to mind again. I was making lunch (grilled cheese sandwiches..can you guess where this is going?)

Me: "Would you like a grilled cheese sandwich?"
Son: "Nooooo."
Me: "Well, your sister and I are having one. What do you want then?"
Son: "A boy cheese sandwich."

Nothing I did, no explanation I gave, not even a cooking demonstration while making them would convince my son that there were no boy or girl cheese sandwiches, just GRILLED.

Finally, I said, "here's your boy cheese sandwich" and he promptly scarfed it down. The content of the sandwich didn't matter to him at all - it's what I called it that made it edible.

So it got me wondering....

How important is a name to you? Does the title of a book or the name of a character, or even the name of a creature or other item in a story make or break it for you? 

There have been a few instances where I hated the name of the character (Bella from Twilight is a prime example - though I did like her as a character...more on that later this week (I realize I'm in a huge minority on this one)) :D

But it didn't put me off the story. There have been instances where the name of a character or the title of a book have bugged me to the point where it pulled me out of the story or made me not pick the book up until peer pressure forced me to cave.

Has this ever happened to you? Does a name really matter that much?


Vicki Rocho said...

I run across books all the time with stupid titles that I don't bother picking up. Character names only bother me when I can't pronounce them. I swear, if I ever write those kind of names into a book I'm including a pronunciation guide in the back!

Len said...

Interesting post, Michelle. I think it often happens to me that's why I now keep a list of books recommended by friends, otherwise I'd be looking for books and judging them by titles or names of the characters which normally are mentioned on the back cover. I don't know if my thinking may be correct - could it be that names have psychological effect on us? Perhaps they are like colours that affect our moods? Just thinking aloud here. Yes you've made me think! I did not like the name 'Tegen' in Beth Webb's Star Dancer but I like her character :) Hmmmm...I like Bella but I would probably have been more keen if it was Isabella or something like that :) Thanks for a lovely post! :)

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Possibly! There's probably some books out there I've not touched due to the title or the name of the character.
And I think Bella is an awful name, too!

Quinn said...

Titles distract me and pull me out of the story. If it doesn't seem to fit, I'll spend the whole book trying to figure it out -- so I'm reading, but not really paying attention.

Funny story though, when my sister was younger she was a really picky eater. One night my dad cooked. He gave my sister a plate and said it was chicken nuggets. She ate everything, asked for more and loved them. Then he told her they were really catfish nuggets. She stopped eating and said that she hadn't really liked them that much to start with -- she was just saying it to be nice.

I guess names do matter.

Liza said...

If I don't like the name of a book, I likely won't pull it off the shelf. I don't worry about the names of characters as long as I can figure out how to pronounce them.

Jennifer Shirk said...

I'm pretty easy with names but there have been a few instances of names that bugged me or just didn't "fit" the character in my opinion.
Wanda in "Time Off for Good Behavior" bugged me. The MC just didn't seem like a Wanda to me.
And I read an old Nora Roberts book where the heroine was named Hester. I had a hard time with that one too.

Mac said...

Back at you with a question for you and your followers...

My characther, Belinda, is called Bea. My wonderful crit partner suggests Bea is for Beatrice, not Belinda. Does anyone know a Belinda that goes by Bea? Or know of a better endearment?

Thanks, Mac

C. N. Nevets said...

@Liza - What you said. :)

Christine Fonseca said...

I'm actually pretty obsessive about character names. I look up the meaning of the name, etc as I am developing the story.

Michelle McLean said...

@ Vicki – totally with you on that one! I always appreciate a pronunciation guide in books with hard to pronounce character names or items :D

@ Len – sorry for making you think on a Monday LOL And yeah, names must have some sort of psychological effect on us. In fact, I know they do. For example, I had a real dud of a boyfriend in my early 20’s – his name was Steve. I can’t stand that name now. A character named Steve automatically has a ding against him, even if he’s the coolest character ever. (Sorry to all the Steve’s out there…I know you aren’t all bad) ;-)

@ L. Diane – LOL glad I’m not the only one.

@ Quinn – I do the same thing! By the end of the book, about the only thing I’m thinking about is “where did they get that title, did I miss something?” And funny about the fish nuggets LOL My kids do the same thing.

@ Liza (and C.N.) :D – yep, I’m sure I’ve missed out on some awesome books due to less than stellar titles.

@ Jennifer – yeah, it’s hard to really connect with a character when you spend the whole time thinking that their name doesn’t fit. I recently read one of the Kathy Reichs books that the t.v. series Bones is based on (love the series, one of my faves). For some reason, the MC’s name, Temperance (Tempe for short) just didn’t fit for me…but only in the book. Doesn’t bother me at all in the show – in fact, I think it fits the show’s character perfectly. But the actress that plays Temperance brings a whole other side of the character that isn’t present in the book – so that may be the difference for me.

@ Mac – hmm, I think I’d have to agree with your friend. When I see Bea, I think Beatrice automatically. For Belinda, I’d probably be shortening it with the ending of the name in mind…Linda, Lindy, Lin…something like that. However, it is YOUR character…if she is Bea for you, let her be Bea :)

@ Christine – LOL I do the same thing! (more proof we were separated at birth LOL) Sometimes I’ll come up with a character’s name out of the blue, but most of the time, the name means something, either literally or personally. My villain in my first book is named Rellik….spelled backwards it is Killer – I love that :D

The Golden Eagle said...

I tend to fuss a lot over names. Nouns for things, character titles, the book title (even if it's just the working title). I'll look them up, Google word translations, check baby name sites to find the perfect one. :P

lbdiamond said...

Oh Gawd, I agonize over names, especially titles! Great post!

Colene Murphy said...

I have a bad(or good?) habit of changing names as I read them if they annoy me. (renesmee? called her Ren in my head. Can't stand that other name) It helps not put me off a book, if I went along with a name I hated it would taint the whole book! It's funny what a name can do for a person.

Jen Chandler said...

I think character names matter a lot. Sometimes, I think they matter too much!

I muse for DAYS over a new character's name (unless it's one of those blissful moments where it just comes to me and is perfect).

I love names whose meanings correspond to something about the character's nature, either obvious or hidden. I also like when a name hints at what that character will become.

See, I told you I thought too much
about names!

Michelle McLean said...

@ Golden Eagle - LOL people are always wondering if I'm pregnant because I have baby name books all over the house :D

@Laura - hehe glad I'm not the only one!

@Colene- ha! I hated "Nesy" too...I think I just called her by her full name the whole time :D

@Jen - LOL I do that too. I also love when a character's name goes with the character (like Damian for a villain, etc) but it does bug me when it obviously points to something and then I end up being way an angelic, blonde beauty named Clara or Angelica or something being a demon in disguise (not a biggie if there's a reason for the deception, but I don't like author's trying to trick me just to trick me LOL)

Christ is Write. said...

I think a name does matter. The name of the main character and title, because it gives the story an image. Not to mention there are many meanings that go behind the name of a person, likewise with titles.

For instance, I love the title of "The Last Song". I'm not sure if you have seen that movie or not, but the title has a huge impact on the message of the story. The main character is Ronnie, which I also think fits pretty well with her character. A name such as Ashley wouldn't exactly fit as well. =)


Carolyn V. said...

As long as I can remember who is who and not get confused...I'm good with any name.

Conda V. Douglas said...

Names are very important to me, Michelle--sometimes I can't get a handle on any fiction until I get the names right!

L.T. Elliot said...

Titles I can take or leave but character names are a bit harder for me to let go of. I can let go of them but it's hard when you're used to calling someone by something and suddenly they don't respond anymore. ;)

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

Titles don't bother me so much as MC names. I tend to get attached to my own MC names more than when I'm reading another author's book. lol.

Jan Markley said...

Great post. It's all in the perception of the word!