Monday, August 17, 2009

Is There a Story in Great-Grandma's Name?

Recently I read an interesting writing exercise that asked the writer to come up with a name for himself/herself if he/she was:
  • a flower
  • a color
  • a musical instrument
  • an ice-cream flavor
  • a fabric
  • a city
  • a street or highway
  • a food
Taken all together, the answers could be the start of a new story--character, setting, plot, etc.

My mind drifted to--what else?--genealogy, and I began to consider all the different family names I've run across in 35 years of researching. Many of the names were passed down through generations. It would be interesting to know, however, how they got started.

  • My great-grandfather's name, passed on to his son, my grandfather, was Petillo.
  • Delilah was the name of my maternal great-great-great-grandmother.
  • My paternal great-great-grandmother's name was Oretha.
  • Great-great-grandpop's name was Freeman, obviously someone's last name--but whose?
  • And, of course, there was the usual smattering of not-so-unusual names such as Margaret Elizabeth, Susan, Louisa, Pattie, Nancy, and Mary.
According to my grandfather (Petillo!), his great-grandmother Delilah smoked a corncob pipe and would often ask him to bring her a coal from the fireplace to light it. She married Isaac Newton Leatherwood (I guess we don't have to wonder where Isaac Newton came from!) and their 10 children had pretty ordinary names. I wonder, though, if Margaret Elizabeth would have smoked a corncob pipe!

Do names affect character traits and personality? When you're choosing your characters' names for your latest story, do your choices have anything to do with the kind of person you plan to write about? Can a hero/heroine have a "sweet" name? Do "sweet" names deceive or define?

The antagonists in Grace Livingston Hill's books usually had fitting names. The one I remember clearly is Vashti. She was a piece of work!

Character names are important. They don't necessarily make or break a story, but they lend credibility (or not) to its content. So the next time you're looking for the perfect name, think back to great-great-great-grandma. You just might hit paydirt!


Behind the Name
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Prairie Den


K9friend said...

There's something about the name Isaac Newton Leatherwood that just begs to become the name of a rough and tumble outdoorsman-type character!

Love it!

nlindabrit said...

I'm with Pat. Isaac Newton Leatherwood is a splendid name!