What’s in a Name?

020bI finally found out the name of a mountain that I see almost every day when I go out walking — Mount Lamborn. (I’d be able to see it from my house, but the view is blocked by a neighbor’s haystack and the haystack is blocked by the lilac bushes we planted to keep from having to look at the dang haystack.) I was excited to put a name to the peak until I realized that the name was bestowed by a human (probably by some guy named Lamborn) and was not at all what the mountain calls itself. Does knowing the name tell me anything about the mountain I cannot see during my daily walk? Does the name give me a clue to its origins, its character, its life?

Humans have a penchant for naming things, which I suppose is a good idea. A name is a shortcut to communication. Calling a mountain Mount Lamborn serves as a shortcut to communicate about the mountain, but it says nothing about the mountain itself.

Character names are the same. We give our characters names so that we can identify them. In fact, I have gone so far as to give some of my characters very pointed names for that reason. Bob Stark in More Deaths Than One was so named because he was supposed to seem an “everyman,” hence the common first name. He was also supposed to be stark of speech and action, and so the surname was a reminder to make sure he didn’t get too flowery. Despite his name, Bob Stark turned out to be rather wordy at times and not the silent, uncommunicative loner I had planned. Greg Pullman in A Spark of Heavenly Fire was named after Bill Pullman in While You Were Sleeping to remind me that Greg was good-looking and very nice. Did these characters become their names, or did I simply become so used to them that when the names outlived their usefulness, I found it impossible to change? I wonder what our characters call themselves. Even more, considering the hell we put the poor characters through, I wonder what they call us!

(This was supposed to be a post inviting you to my book launch party to be held on October 15 here on this blog, but finding out the name of the peak sidetracked me. With or without an invitation, you are still invited to my cyber party.) 

DAIDaughter Am I, my young woman/old gangsters coming of age adventure, will be available from Second Wind Publishing in two days!

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5 Responses to “What’s in a Name?”

  1. joylene Says:

    I named my protag in Dead Witness Mike Canaday simply because my mother loved baseball and she was very patriotic, hence Canada is part of Canaday’s name.

    But as for us authors, to change our characters’s names after the book’s out would be painful and unnatural. I can’t imagine what it would feel like if they were allowed to change their own names.

    Mike stops in his tracks, turns to me and says, “I’m thinking of changing my last name to Ruth. Hope you’re okay with that?”

    Happy Book Launching, Pat!

  2. joylene Says:

    Daughter Am I isn’t out yet? I can’t find it at Amazon.ca or .com

    I thought it was out this week. Course, I’m running on empty so I may have misunderstood.

  3. Sheila Deeth Says:

    What’s in a name? I ended up renaming all the characters in a series of books I was writing, because all my serious readers said the names were boring. But it was great because I also ended up learning so much more about them while I named them, and the next draft was way better. Wonder if we could name mountains that way.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      How interesting to rename your characters. It would be a good way to get to know them. As for renaming the mountain, I suppose “Mount Lamborn” is just as good a name as “the mountain Pat Bertram sees when she goes for a walk.”

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