A Rose by Any Other Name Wiggles

08/11/11 6:08 AM

I put a lot of thought into my characters’ names, as I imagine most writers do.

I’m particularly interested in a name’s meaning, both subtle meanings — like a name’s origins — and more obvious meanings. To wit: in one of my short stories, “Orange Pineapple,” one of the main characters has low self-esteem and is down on his luck; I named him “Les.” The Lolita-like character in the same story is named “Candy.”

But back to What Happened in Granite Creek. In the original version of the short story, “Support Our Troops,” (upon which the novel is based), the quadruple amputee who lost his limbs while serving in Iraq was named Jamie Wigglesworth.

Why Wigglesworth? A few years ago, I met a 100-year-old woman in a nursing home whose last name was Wigglesworth, and I always liked it. It was memorable, and it seemed like a good old-fashioned Yankee name. Oh, but my beta readers hated it.

HATED.

IT.

But why?

The main reason was the fact the character is a quad amputee, with four missing limbs. Since the word “wiggles” was part of the last name, some of my beta readers thought it was in poor taste, like a bad joke. Others thought it was distracting. Still other just thought the name was too weird. I could see their point.

So off I went, researching Yankee surnames, since Jamie’s family has deep roots in the small fictional New Hampshire town of Granite Creek. The name I settled on was “Briggs” — the origins of the name relates to the characters, particularly Barbara Briggs (I’m not going to give it away here, but if you’ve read the book and want to know the origin of the name, look here). I love placing these hidden Easter eggs in my books; I hope it makes for a richer reading experience. At the same time, this particular little egg won’t hurt the readers who don’t have any knowledge of the name’s origins.

As for first names, Koty’s name was always Koty, short for Dakota, which reflects where she was born. When I did some research into that name, I thought it was cool that the name means “friend,” since Koty is in desperate need of a friend, especially in the beginning. Wayne was always Wayne…it just came across as a strong name (it actually means wagon maker).

As for Jamie, I wanted a male name that isn’t too common, but also a name that could be either gender, since Jamie’s mother had a hard time having a baby, and I could see her wanting a name that could work either way. (I went back and forth on the spelling; there’s a character named Jamie in the movie Love, Actually, and writers spelled it J-A-M-I-E, which was good enough for me. Yep, it’s the English spelling.)

Koty’s daughters are all named after flowers, something I could see a young idealistic Koty opting for as a way to make a tough situation a little easier. (The original short story also had a “Lily” who didn’t make it into the full blown novel, poor kid.)

As a reader, how much do you pay attention to characters’ names? Do you have any favorites? Any least favorites (or names that you encountered that affected your reading of the story). Share in the comments.

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3 Comments on “A Rose by Any Other Name Wiggles”

  1. Martin Dugas Says:

    Usually, I don’t pay much attention to characters’ names in novels I read. For my own stories, I guess I just go with the same approach they (meteorologists) use to name major hurricanes: by picking a new, unique name that hasn’t been used before. However, the name of a specific character has to appeal to me in some way. I try to choose original names that readers will remember.

    I recently wrote a short story in which the names of two important characters both started with “St” (Stanley & Stewart). One comment I received from a more experienced writer was that it was confusing. After reading my story again, I agreed! So I changed one of the names and the issue was solved. Sometimes, we are so deep in our stories that we become unaware of such “collateral effects” on the reading experience.

    Robyn, I like Easter Eggs! You’ve motivated me to spend a little more time in researching better names for the characters in my stories!

  2. Steve T Says:

    So glad you changed his name. I felt just like those potatoes in the photo.

  3. Robyn Says:

    @Martin — it’s funny how sometimes we can get “too close” to our work. And yay for Easter Eggs! 🙂

    @Steve — I know, I know. You’re one of the (many) motivating forces behind the name change. 🙂