Name Theory: “Meanings”

Names can have a different feel to people based on their experience of the name. I personally have two very close friends with the same name, and know two very difficult people with the same name—and now those two names are tied up in those associations.

For writers this can be good, as when a name’s associations are cultural and will “mean” the same thing to readers, or bad, as when the writers’ associations are extremely personal and the writer makes the mistake of thinking their feelings are universal.

I’m sure I do this. Some names I think of as ugly, or weird, or dated. I have to keep reading up on names to keep up with the trends in name fashion, but I know not everyone will do this.

As writers, however, we all need to be aware of our prejudices so that what we write will resonate with readers—rather than be so dissonant that the reader is taken out of the story. As I like to say, the suspension of disbelief will only go so far.

Part of the reason why I suggest five names to writers is because I know my associations won’t always match their associations, or that my preferences won’t match their preferences. This week I suggested Katherine for a character, and the writer liked the name—but that does not mean it was chosen for the same reason I suggested it.

Name fashion, like language, is fluid and changing. I try to roll with the tide. Won’t you come with me?


Here’s a little game for you (don’t guess if you know me in real life):

  • Which one of these is the name of two of my best friends?
  • Which is the name of a few bitchy girls I went to high school with?
  • Which is the name of two difficult women I know?
  • Judy
  • Tara
  • Lisa

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