Sunday, April 24, 2011

what's in a name?

I often have a hard time with character names. Names are wildly important to me. Not only does the name have to fit the character I'm creating, it has to be a name that I want to hang out with for the next year of my life. I have unfinished screenplays and manuscripts wasting away on my computer because I just couldn't stand to type J-E-S-S-E again. And sometimes the only thing holding me back from starting a story is knowing the character's name.

I read a book once. I don't remember the name or the author. It was, I can tell you, one of those books where a writer tries to tell you how "you too can become a famous write like me!" In that book he said that names are unimportant. They are so unimportant, that you should be able to assign each character a number. Instead of Frank and Sue, call them 1 and 2. Once you finish your manuscript, do a "find & replace" search and change all the 1's to Franks. His philosophy was that not only can names bog you down, but how can you really know your character until you've gone on a complete journey with them? I understand what that writer was saying, but I just can't do that.

I need to know Charlie before I can write for him. Knowing that this guy grew up being called "Charlie" tells me a lot. Speaking of Charlie, that's the other thing I like to do. I like to pay homages to other characters, friends, and heroes of mine with the names I choose (even if I'm the only one who gets it). Taking the characters from The Ruffians, for example:
  • CHARLIE HAMMOND. I named him after two of my favorite Charlies ever: Charlie Brown and Charlie from LOST. Hammond, however, came from Russell Hammond, the character Billy Crudup played in Almost Famous. I have this theory that Russell Hammond is actually Charlie's father, but we'll have to wait to see if that's true.
  • ALEXANDER GREENE. Originally his name was going to be Xan (though short for Alexander). I work with a guy named Xan who is supremely cool and I liked the name. But Corey, who plays Alexander, preferred going by Alexander. So we went with that. His surname, Greene, came from one of my favorite people from American history, Nathanael Greene.
  • SOFIA TOWNSEND . . . I wish I could speak to this name, but it was the creation of Rachel Komorowski. You'd have to ask her. I imagine it's because she's a fan of short shorts and Stuart Townsend.
I'll stop here because I could go on and on about all the different characters I've named. And honestly, it's just not that interesting (except to me).

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