So what, exactly, is in that name?!


Recently I’ve come across some movies and books, the names of which have left me scratching my head.

Now I don’t know about you but I’m one of those types of readers who, in the course of reading a book, will always think of the title and what made the author choose that title (given of course that it’s not something obvious like the name of the main character). And there are times when I even anticipate the point in the story where the meaning of the title is revealed. I guess I do the same for movies.

Last week I watched a movie called ‘Abduction’. Wasn’t a bad movie but afterwards I was slightly annoyed. Nobody was abducted or kidnapped in this movie. I tried to look for a symbolic meaning in the title. Nope. Nothing there either. I was left with a similar feeling after finishing The Old Curiosity Shop. I kept wondering why it was called that when not even a hundred pages into the book Nell and her grandfather leave the shop and the rest of the story chronicles their journey away from London. Was the great Charles Dickens just being lazy? No. I had just had an epiphany while writing this blogpost. Since The Old Curiosity Shop was initially printed as a serial in a magazine, on starting it, Dickens had to give it a name. And since the first parts were set in the shop he probably thought it was the best name for the story. (This is my theory, I’m trying to give the genius the benefit of the doubt here…) Of course looking forward this title doesn’t make any sense.

Now perhaps the name of a story shouldn’t influence your enjoyment of it but I have to admit that sometimes for me, it does.

A good example is Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye. This title is an intriguing (if not mysterious) one to someone who hasn’t read it. As I progressed through the novella, I anticipated what this title could mean and how it tied in with Holden Caulfield, the main character. When that point in the book came however, I marvelled at the symbolism Salinger employed and despite the melancholy tone of the story, the revelation of the meaning behind the title put a smile on my face. It’s one of the things that I’ll never forget about that book.

I understand that in some cases, coming up with the title for your story can be more time-consuming and brain-racking then writing the story itself. I know this firsthand too. Some will definitely argue that this shouldn’t be the case and that the story is more important, not the title, but I guess I just find it irksome when no intelligent thought is given to names of things or worse, when the title makes no sense.

So does a terrible, silly or ingenious title affect your enjoyment of a book? And what’s the most confusing name of a book or movie you’ve ever come across?

NM 🙂

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A character by any other name….


The naming of your characters is an inevitable part of the writing process. But does it bear the same amount of significance as say, naming your child or pet?

For many, choosing names can be quite a fun project. In the beginning it was one of my favourite writing-related tasks. I even had a separate notebook for just people and place names. As a writer of short-stories however I find myself using this book less and less and my concern for the ‘right’ name dwindling. You would think that the opposite would apply. Writing so many different stories would require more names and a book to keep track of them all would be useful. Clearly this is not the case with me now.

It’s not that I don’t care what I call my characters. In fact I think the right type of name can sometimes add depth to a character. But because of the need to generate more (and different) ideas for each story, I now seem to spend less time and energy looking for names than I use to (sometimes I even leave a blank space where a character’s name should appear if I can’t think of what to call them immediately). If I get an idea or am on a roll, I really don’t want to lose my mojo by stopping to deliberate about names.

So what’s in a name? Would a rose by any other still smell as sweet? Will the name you choose impact on the way readers will perceive that character? Or is a name just that, a name?

Personally I do think a name can influence a reader’s perception. It does not fail to do so in real life.
Picture yourself at a party. You get introduced to a guy named Adolf. What is your immediate reaction/feeling?
I think even the most open-minded of us would experience that split second of negativity towards the dude in question. Although knowing me, my initial reaction would be to laugh in poor Adolf’s face with tactless and shameful impersonations of the Führer (don’t give me that look, you would probably be thinking it too!).

Taken from cardboiled.com

Thinking about the name game in my writing, I realized that I don’t actually have a particular method I use. Before I use to make use of baby-name books and websites, jotting down my favourites in my notebook, but nowadays, due to the time and energy factors mentioned above, I just take a few minutes to think about the character (read: daydream!) and then contemplate what sort of name this person looks like. E.g. he looks like a Tristan or she looks like an Amy. I know this sounds vague but I can’t describe my method any better (sorry! LOL).

When it comes to ethnical names I tend to fall into the trap of choosing a name whose meaning describes the character’s main attributes, sincerely hoping that nobody knowledgeable in that particular language would notice.
For example, I set one of my stories on an imaginary island of the East coast of Africa in the 16th century. It would only make sense that the characters should all have Swahili/Arabic names. Because I’m not familiar with the Swahili language, I had tons of fun researching names of Swahili origin. It was all new to me; I never came across any of these names before so I spent a considerable time searching. The villages on the Island are all governed by a Chief, whom I named ‘Akida’, which means leader (go figure!) and the village whore I christened ‘Bahati,’ which means beautiful (I couldn’t find a name that means ‘she who enjoys illicit, amorous relations with men’!).

Do you think this is a bit contrived?

What is your method for choosing names? And how much time do you spend researching them? And more importantly, if you’re a short story writer, do you find that the task of choosing names becomes more and more tedious over time? Or am I just being lazy?