Don’t discount the power of a name

The tag pile

The tag pile (Photo credit: nightthree)

I came across a discussion in one of my Goodreads groups on how authors select names for their characters and I found it to be a rather interesting discussion. I happen to fall into the category of people who think that the meaning behind a name is an important consideration. Not just when creating fictitious characters for a story, but in all things.

For example, one of my sisters met a woman who was joyfully describing how she had selected a very unique sounding name. When asked to spell the name out, my sister learned that the woman had inadvertently bestowed upon her new daughter the name of a sexually transmitted disease. I will grant her that the young girl is probably not going to come across very many others with the same name in her life span, so if unique is what the mother was going for, she achieved it. Poor girl – if only her mom had done a quick reference check. I believe her mother thought she was naming her daughter after a flower.

When naming our sons, my husband only wanted to make sure that the names we selected had a family connection. I on the other hand not only researched each and every name for its meaning, but I also checked out their potential initials for negative connotations, whether or not the combination of first and middle name matched historic figures with questionable reputations, and went even so far as to try to pick a name that’s meaning spoke to both their anticipated Roman and Chinese Zodiac characteristics. Okay, maybe I took it a little too far. An aside, my older son choose to be several days late, nearly ruining my well thought out plans.

Perhaps I should have gone with a colleague’s method – pick three names that sound good to your ears when you are yelling for your child to pay attention for the tenth time. As she is the mother of four, it is a good tip.

As I mentioned above, I believe that the importance of names is not just limited to the selection of first (or middle) names. One of the neat things about my day job is my exposure to how things are named within other companies. There are companies which give their project bland alpha numeric codes and ones that allow their teams to come up with an internal names as if they were military operations. Project Silver Bullet, Panther, etc.

Trust me, the actual products that go with these project names aren’t nearly as exciting, but the creative names give the team something to rally around better than the numerically assigned names. Granting the team the ability to name their own project helps make a team feel more empowered and vested into the project’s success which is ultimately better for a company’s growth.

I also came across another company where they really had fun with professional titles. For example, their human resource department was known as “inmate control” and their quality assurance department, the “SWAT Team.” You could assume a lot about their company culture just by looking at their business cards. I can only imagine how much time they just saved in the interview process by breaking from tradition and renaming their job functions. Job seekers turned off by the non-traditional names need not apply.

The point I am trying to make is this – there is power in names whether or not you choose to do the research behind their meaning. Even if you don’t particularly care about the meaning, there are people like myself out there who will make all sorts of assumptions about a story, person, or company based on nothing else. Please don’t rely on a random name generator. At least not for anything above the status of ‘extra.’ If you can’t come up with a name, at least give another human a chance at it.

When there is so much else in this world that is out of our control, it is so nice to be able to sit down and decree that henceforth you shall be known as ___.

Some links worth checking out:

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