Monday, January 28, 2008

Character’s Personalities and Names

Once you’ve defined your characterization—the kind of person you need to carry the story along with compelling conflict—you’re ready to add to that characterization with appearance and other aspects of personality.

Personality is separate from character since we can hide who we really are beneath a demeanor that misleads others. Sometimes we don’t really know who we are. It’s possible to play a role for so long, a person loses site of his true identity. A shy person can force himself to be overt, sometimes going over the top. While someone who is brazen or confident can do so with purpose, by laying back and viewing the scene before settling into the flow of conversation—a strategy to make a certain impression. People can be divisive with intent or behave this way as part of their personality, but we do what often we do to protect our vulnerability.

Personality is a means by which characters deliver characterization, referring most here to the inner works of the person's desire to reach a goal and the rules that guides him. A criminal takes his goal or need without thought of others. If he kills so what? Steals? What difference because he gets what he wants, but his personality is another part of him. Is he a quiet man or a raucous character? Does she scrutinize for act on emotion? As we devise our characters, we want to ask what personality is needed to enhance the characterization, the plot, and reader's interest.

Besides actions, readers get to know characters through other methods and writers offer clues. As in real life, the first thing parents do following the birth of their new son or daughter is to give them a name. Many couples have given this thought long before the child appears. In the same way, wen we birth our characters, an interesting part of creating a character is naming them.

We know from personal experience, names are important because names can sometimes help define a character – whether correct or not. Names can be stigma because of past stereotypes. By this I mean, if a girl’s name is Bambi, the first thing that comes to some people’s mind is a dim-witted blond. This is not reality, but many comedies – movies or TV satires – use a name like this—Bambi, Dandi and Candi—for this type of character. The name Wilbur, Percy or Elmer is not a name that we attach to a handsome hero. Names seem to have connotative images—just like Bambi. But if you use the name Chad, Cole, Drake, Travis or Clint, you can almost picture the slightly tipped Stetson and the tight pants.

Names can be connected with famous people, live or fictitious, with strong personalities. Think: Rambo, Lolita, Rhett, Scarlett, Madonna, or Cher. We have a visual picture and even more a characterization so using this name draws a visual image into the readers mind and establishes a character.

It’s obvious finding right name for the character is important. Many websites are helpful in naming characters. A popular one for finding the ten most popular male and female names from 1880 to the present is . Some website will also give personality types related to given names and what the name traditionally means. Just remember, your characters’ personality and image can be enhanced by the name you select for your character. Camille Cannon, a writer and blog reader suggested another name site that also includes meaning of the name. I thought I'd share this with you and hope you find it helpful as well:

Another element writers want to do immediately is formulate the characters’ appearance according to the role he or she will play in the story. I will cover this in my next blog.


Camille Cannon (Eide) said...

Thanks for explaining the difference between character (inner traits, values, etc) and personality. Since real people are able to separate them, it only makes sense that our character will seem more real, fleshed out when we put these at odds.

Thanks for the link to the baby name site. I'd never checked it. Guess heroine named Emily is ranked #1. I gave her that name thinking it sounded a little old fashioned.

She's a kind, gracious young woman, but the hero knowing her only through letters thinks she's a nice, middle aged spinster, partly because of the old fashinoned name.

Oddly enough, I just looked up the meaning of Emily and found it means friendly, tender. Hmmm.

Physically, I have her a little too slender as part of her personality: she's the type who worries about the happiness and well being of others, to the point that she stresses a little too much.

And don't get me started about him... Ian is a walking contradiction. Nice and conflicted.
His name is popular in Scotland I just looked it up and it means God is forgiving. Which is a huge part of his journey in this story. Hmmm.

If name meaning is of any help, there's a website at that gives origins, definitions and popularity graphs.

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Hi Camille - I'm glad you're already using the name to help describe your character. I find it interesting how names play an important part in providing readers with a clearer picture, too.

Thanks for the website link. I think I'll add it to the blog so others can benefit.