Is it in the Details? Character and Setting Names

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.

The Beautiful Napalm Nectar in Bloom

In my last post, inspired by the daily prompt, I talked about name meanings and how internet “research” led me to one eerily accurate analysis of mine.

This had me thinking about fictional names and how one night, my “research” led me to find out the background of my character’s names. Totally productive way to spend my writing time, am I right?

 For the past couple of months, I’ve been re-visiting my work-in-progress—mostly character profiles and setting details. I found I wasn’t connecting with certain character names, and some settings had simply gone unnamed for FIVE YEARS. For instance, up until recently, the small town in which my main character lives was nameless. It started out as the overly-dramatic Nightshade Falls—don’t laugh, I really, really wanted to call it that—but in the end, I just couldn’t do it. It was too cheesy; too overdone.  I mean, how many stories need to take place in a small but mysterious town that has inevitably been named after a waterfall? I’ll tell you how many. A lot. A lot-a-lot. Petticoat Falls, Bright Falls, Bedford Falls, Mystic Falls, just to name a few…and did you know there is an actual town in Ohio called “Chagrin Falls”?

Adorable shop in Chagrin Falls

Adorable shop in Chagrin Falls

Am I the only one that finds that awesome? I mean, were the falls embarrassed to be there? Were they embarrassingly small? Did they suffer from a case of low self-esteem?

I don’t get it. Of course, I’m certain if I Googled it I would eventually find an answer to this pressing question, but that would mean more time spent on research/procrastinating/obsessing over details that have absolutely no bearing on my story. Gotta draw the line somewhere people.  (It actually sounds like an amazing place to visit. Check it out.) 

So, instead of naming Laya’s hometown Nightshade Falls, I went with The Town of East Hollow. And I think I like it.

I was comfortable with the names of all my main characters but one, so he has been re-named, (from Devlin to Jonah). Unfortunately, I couldn’t stop at re-naming a few characters, I had to look up the meaning behind my character names. Apparently, according to numerology, my main character’s last name of Ison means a representation of law and order, having a special mission in life and standing for truth and justice. It’s kind of perfect actually 🙂  Don’t you love it when your subconscious takes over and makes the right choices for you?

Unfortunately, my research also revealed that I named her mother after a laxative 😦

That just can’t be. I cannot have this strong, zen-like warrior woman be associated with something that helps you poop. I can’t. So what’s an OCD writer to do? I’ve been set on that name for a very long time. That’s who she is to me. The idea of calling her something else gives me an unpleasant feeling, similar to how I feel when I kill off a character.

So are names important? I would argue that yes, yes they are. Sorry Juliet, Juliet_main

I’m just not convinced a rose would smell as sweet by any other name. Mmm…breathe in the intoxicating scent of this beautiful Blooming Napalm Nectar!

It’s very possible that I spend a tad too much time obsessing over the details like character and setting names. But names are symbols for who we are and what we stand for (quite literally). I want to find just the right name so that it conjures up a certain image. The problem with that of course is that it’s probably subjective to the reader, so I worry more about what the name conjures in my own mind, and that helps me connect with the story.  

Anyone else do this? Spend too much time on the little details and not enough time on the big picture? Or is there such a thing?

Related Posts

Writing Tip Wednesday: Naming Your Characters

How Do You Name Your Characters?

Finding the Perfect Name for Your Characters

Don’t Make These Four Mistakes When You Name Your Characters

You can find the rest of my posts on the subject of writing, under the category The Writing Process, found in the right hand column of my blog.


About sharonholly

writer, reader, music-lover, glamorous facilitator of literacy...
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2 Responses to Is it in the Details? Character and Setting Names

  1. paulette says:

    Names are interesting…my name for instance has people assuming that I am French which would require some French blood to which I have none, lol….rather it was the name of my Mom’s best friend and now my alias…


    • sharonholly says:

      I’ve always felt oddly disconnected from my name. If I were to re-name myself it would be slightly more eccentric and it would end in a vowel. Maybe I could just add an “a” and be Sharona!

      I think that what we are named as babies influences how other people see us, and that in turn influences who we become as people. It’s a weird thought!


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