Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What’s in a Name: “Call Me Ishmael”

Can you imagine Herman Melville's Moby-Dick starting with the line, "Call me Steve?" A dear writing pal and I were talking on the phone last night during our monthly long-distance writing group, and she mentioned something quite profound. She was telling me how hard it is for her to come up with character names: "Then I found this name that when I put it into the story, I said, 'Yeah, that's it.' Then I knew who my character was." Of course, my friend knew who the character was—we were discussing the protagonist, and the first draft of the story is done. But when my friend put that particular name into the story, she not only had the satisfaction of a name that matched the character, but a character who matched the name and whom she now understood in a way she hadn't before. That kind of insight will make editing draft two a lot easier. It also gives readers an immediate sense of the person, or place, they're reading about. After all, a rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but it somehow seems better as a "rose" than "cabbage."

As promised in the New Year, we're sharing links and resources. So, here's the link that helped my friend select a great name for her main character:

Writing World (Names)

If you have a trusted writing site, including your own, to share, send it to Adele Annesi. To put today's musing into action, check out the writing tip at the top of the list, and let me know how it goes.


Anonymous said...

Philip Roth began his baseball novel, "The Great American Novel," with the line, "Call me Smitty." An online biography of Roth states: "This mock-heroic tone reinforces the sense of caricature and pastiche which runs through the novel. Roth holds up the myth of the Great American Novel to the same ridicule as the myth of the Great American Pastime." The first line is meant to ridicule epic literature.

Adele Annesi said...

Yet the choice of "Smitty" as a name typifies the "American-ness" of baseball. Seems like it reinforces the point. Many thanks!

Kerry Wood said...


That line of Stein,
I once was told,
By poetry instructor,

Calls to mind
The picking off,
One petal at a time,

(With careful thumb
And forefinger)
A rose or other flower.

The same as when
As boys we played:
“She loves me; loves me not.”

What would he say
Were I to change
Each noun by just one letter?

What’s finger do
If I change words to
“Nose is a nose is a nose”?

Call me Percy Flodge