Name Theory: Taint

All I want to say after Monday’s post is…Rhonda!

Granted, I know a Rhonda and her negative qualities taint my thoughts about that name, but the name itself has a feeling. That H sound that pushes the sound into your nose, followed by the “duh” ending, add up to a less than appealing sound. This would be perfect for a less than appealing character, but not for a little sister character who is probably innocuous at best.

Names seem to me to have two main qualities. First, they have what the name feels like based on the sound of the name and whether the sounds are currently popular, and also on your immediate feeling of the character of the name. Second, names have a taint based on experience.

I know a Rhonda, so for me that name has a certain image associated with it that other people wouldn’t have. I also have my own life experiences, which lead me to sometimes associate the name with the song Help Me, Rhonda. My experiences taint my feeling of the name, and I know to take that into account when considering names for characters. (Like I have said, I usually wouldn’t choose a name of someone I know for a character if I can help it. But I may suggest the name of someone I know for another writer, since s/he wouldn’t necessarily share my bias nor would there be the problem of the known person claiming the character was based on them.)

I also have strong associations with other names of people I went to school with (Lisa is one example), people I’ve worked with, or my son’s friends. And I’m sure you have strong associations with the names of some people you know as well.

You may consider a certain name sexy, because someone you dated had that name, but the opinion of sexiness could be tainted by your experience. Or you may consider a certain name a “mean girl” name due to its association with your nemesis, but that also is a taint.

Your particular taint is neither good nor bad. I’m not here to judge it. I just ask you to be aware of your taints, as I try to be aware of mine, so that you don’t unfairly judge a name.

When choosing character names, avoid using your personal taints to decipher the feeling of a name, and focus more on the cultural taints that your readers would share. I know that if the name Rhonda was suggested for a character in the 1960s or 1970s it would have been considered differently than it would be today, because back then the name was a lot more fashionable. And, so, my taint would have been negated by the cultural association and the name may have been found appropriate.

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