Monday, August 2, 2010

Christening Your Characters: Part Two by Ocieanna Fleiss

Happy Manuscript Monday, everyone. As promised, Ocieanna Fleiss has returned to share more on naming characters with us.

Christening Your Characters: Part Two*
by Ocieanna Fleiss

Find the Hidden Meaning

My husband recently read Uncle Tom’s Cabin. “Honey,” he said, his voice full of thought, “I think Evangeline represents the gospel.” (Evangel means gospel. How smart is he?) Lots of names are pregnant with meaning. Did you know Aslan means lion in Turkish? And think about Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. Scout—she’s scouting out the truth. Or a strong leader might have the name, Leo, suggesting lion.

If you have a well-defined character, make a list of his or her traits. Then go to a baby names web site and look up names that go with the meanings you’ve listed. You may not find the perfect fit, but it’ll spark your creativity.

The Why? Layers, layers, layers. Giving our characters meaningful names adds the yummy depth that keeps readers coming back for more.

Do I Know You?

Another name-picking device springs from allusions to well-known characters. Remember Francine Rivers’ book Redeeming Love? The hero’s name was Michael Hosea—and, well, the book’s patterned after the biblical story of Hosea.

I’m sure Moby Dick author Herman Melville had a purpose in naming his monomaniacal captain after evil king Ahab. In the book Ella Enchanted, the hero and heroine’s names are, Ella and Char. It took me till the last chapter to figure out she was pointing me to Cinderella and Prince Charming. I’m a little slow.

A twist on this is naming characters with the first letters of their famous precursors’ names. In East of Eden, John Steinbeck’s twins Cal and Aron coincide with Cain and Abel, which they represent. Liz Curtis Higgs’ Scotland-set novel, Thorn in My Heart, mimics the lives of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah. Her corresponding character names begin with the same first letters.

The Why? Allusion is a time-tested literary device. Using it in the name-picking process gives readers a clue—one perhaps no one else will notice (or so they think)—to the character’s true identity.

Quick Tip

Reminder: Be careful that your characters’ names fit the time period they live in. You wouldn’t want an American Revolution era gentleman named, Biff, or a World War II lady called Madison.

Though naming our precious characters can be challenging, finding the most fitting names not only adds layers of depth and meaning, it’s also satisfying as a writer. By the way, my critique friend ended up changing her hero’s name to Mitch, much better.

* This article first appeared in Northwest Christian Author newsletter.


Ocieanna Fleiss has cowritten two novels with Tricia Goyer—both for Summerside press. The most recent, Love Finds You in Victory Heights, Washington, released July, 2010. Ocieanna has also written several articles for national publications and a bi-monthy column for Northwest Christian Writers Association. Homeschool mom of four little ones, she, along with her husband, stay busy at her home in the Seattle area.


Love Finds you in Victory Heights, Washington by Tricia Goyer and Ocieanna Fleiss:

The Second World War has stolen Rosalie's fiance from her. But rather than wallow, Rosalie throws herself into her work at the Boeing plant in Victory Heights, shooting rivets into the B-17 bombers that will destroy the enemy. A local reporter dubs her Seattle's Own Rosie the Riveter, and her story lends inspiration to women across the country. While Rosalie's strong arms can bear the weight of this new responsibility, her heart cannot handle the intense feelings that begin to surface for Kenny, the handsome reporter. Fear of a second heartbreak is a powerful opponent - but will it claim victory over love?

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