Several years ago, I gave a presentation on a book I published entitled Erudition. While the subject matter of the book is diverse, a great portion of it concerned the psychological problems of my protagonist, Veronica Messing. After I gave my presentation on the book, one of the audience members suggested that the last name of the protagonist-Messing-was meant to emphasize the fact that the woman’s life was in disarray. Although this was not my intent in including the word “mess” in her last name, this experience caused me to think critically about the significance that a character’s name can have in the mind of the reader.
When I reflect on my history of publications, I find that Erudition is not the only written work in which a reader might extract meaning from a character’s name. Several months ago, Haggard & Halloo published a poem of mine entitled “thoughts after finding (greater grass).” It reads thus:
The other girl
just lives next door.
Here, names convey meaning to the reader because Anna-the woman who the speaker has chosen to be with-has a name. The woman who he decides to end a relationship with, on the other hand, is referred to as “the other girl.” Thus she is nameless, a reality indicating that she lacks identity and significance in the mind of the speaker. In this case, the names within the poem convey two things: value and a lack of value. In essence, Anna is of significance to the speaker whereas his former partner is not.
Upon consideration of the depth and scope of meaning that can be communicated to the reader through names, writers may not want to arbitrarily choose the names of their characters. Rather, they should consider how the name of a protagonist or central character may suggest things about their personality or significance within the unfolding story. Once this is done, the writer can strategically name characters in a way that deepens the reader’s understanding of their personality and purpose within the text.
Jocelyn Crawley holds B.A. degrees in English and Religious Studies. Her work has appeared in Jerry Jazz Musician, Nailpolish Stories, Visceral Uterus, Four and Twenty, Dead Beats and Haggard and Halloo. Other stories are forthcoming in Faces of Feminism and Calliope.
Related Articles From Jocelyn:
Writing Tips: Another Side of Assonance
Writing Tips: Conflating Sensorial Elements
Writing Tips: Fictionalizing Reality