How does pop culture influence our name choices for our children or our characters? We are influenced by current movies, books, music, television shows, politicians, and other famous people. As a teacher, I was intrigued by how my students always had the latest, cutting-edge names from some current influence—and not the easiest ones for me to remember.
Perhaps the most interesting prompt I ever gave to my students was this: Write about the significance of your first name and how your parents chose yours. Each response revealed a unique set of circumstances or told an entertaining story. Many names came from movies such as The Notebook, Twilight, and now more recently, Frozen.
So how do parents name these newborn darlings? Today lots of people already have the names pre-chosen before birth. But what if the chosen name doesn’t quite fit his or her newborn looks? Do parents worry about things like that these days?
My father always let my mother make this important decision, so she named my older brother for her favorite movie star, Ronald Reagan. But when I arrived twelve years later on St. Patrick’s Day, she had to see me first and then “try on” various names, like trying on clothes. Each day over the course of the next week (back when new mothers lounged for a week or two in the hospital), I was Sharon, Marilyn, Colleen, and Patricia. Just when the nurses thought she would never decide, Karen seemed to fit me best, so they hurriedly gave my parents a pen and the birth certificate before Mother could change her mind again.
Naming my own two was a different experience because my husband wanted an equal say in the decision. A week before the birth of our first daughter, we lobbed names back and forth across a restaurant dinner table like a tennis game. Meghan won the match.
But the second time, we couldn’t decide. Before the hospital had to ask us to leave (back when new mothers could stay for three days), my husband wanted to christen her Alice, while I insisted on Caroline, a family name. Finally, I broke the deadlock with something new I had heard from another expectant mom just two weeks before giving birth—Caitlin. It was so brand new that we couldn’t even remember it at first, so she was promptly nicknamed Caitie.
Don’t we go through the same process with our characters? Like our children, we must give them those perfect names. But as writers, the process is reversed and we must suggest a name that connotes a character type that the reader can then conjure up in his or her own imagination.
Let’s say, if I chose the name Scarlett for my heroine, whom would you envision? A girl with fiery-red hair, milky-white complexion dotted with freckles, and sky-blue eyes? Not if that name reminds you of Vivian Leigh in Gone with the Wind. Then you would see a raven-haired beauty with emerald-green eyes and a steel-magnolia personality. On the other hand, if you are writing for a contemporary audience, perhaps they might be too young to even relate to that reference, instead making a connection to blond beauty Scarlett Johansson in He’s Just Not That Into You.
Regardless of your choices, these names will live forever in your books and in your readers’ memories. Choose names that will aptly apply to your time period and genre because naming your characters well is one of your most important decisions.
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Writing Prompt: How has pop culture influenced names in your family (including yours) or the name of your characters?
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