Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Will the Real Ms ?? Please Stand Up

Without a doubt one of the most difficult tasks a writer has to do, other than plot a book, is aptly name the characters.

Last month’s blog-Don’t Take a Wimp to a Gunfight-featured the birth names and stage names of male movie stars. Perhaps it’s the times, but I was surprised to find that many past and present female movie heroine’s do not have stage names, rather are billed under their given name. Nonetheless, I can understand why Hollywood insisted upon name changes for these actresses.

Real Name Stage Name

Judy Garland - Francis Gumm
Whoopie Goldberg - Caryn Johnson
Cheryl Ladd - Cheryl Stoppelmoor
Demi Moore -Demetria Guynes
Donna Reed - Belle Mullenger
Joan Rivers - Sandra Molinsky
Meg Ryan - Emily Anne Hyra
Jane Seymour - Joyce Frankenberg
Tina Turner - Annie Mae Bullock
Twiggy - Leslie Hornby
Cher - Cherilyn Sarkisian
Lauren Bacall - Betty Joan Perske
Marilyn Monroe - Norma Jean Mortensen
Doris Day- Doris Von Kappellof
Joan Crawford - Lucille LeSueur
Queen Latifah - Dana Elain Owens
Morgan Fairchild - Patsy Ann McClenny

Imagine the movie marquee reading: Now starring Doris Von Kappellof with Roy Scherer in Pillow Talk? Loses something, doesn’t it? But, Doris Day and Rock Hudson is more appealing. I can’t imagine Annie Mae Bullock, rocking away on stage and belting out the song Proud Mary, but Tina Turner—oh yeah! Some of you may remember that Lauren Bacall was the real-life wife of Humphrey Bogart. So, hmmm, I wonder—did Bogie refer to her as Lauren or Betty Joan?

A few points to remember when naming the heroines in your stories, it’s important to consider: does the name reflect the heroine’s personality, the time period of the story, and her ethnic background, social status and does her name coincide with the book’s genre? Some excellent resources for researching names is: http://www.babynames.com/; http://www.behindthename.com/; http://www.babynamesworld.com/

A general search using search engines such as: Google, Yahoo, Alta Vista, Lycos and HotBot are useful for researching names. U.S. Social Security has a list of most popular names. One particularly helpful online encyclopedia is Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/. Wikipedia happens to have quite a bit of information on naming practices.

One of my favorite resource books that I keep next to my computer is: Character Naming Source Book (Second Edition) by Sherrilyn Kenyon.

I love it when I’m searching for a character’s name and have that ‘aha’ moment and the person in my head suddenly comes alive when I find the perfect name.


Sandy Cody said...

Interesting observations, Loretta. I, too, struggle to come up with the right name for my characters. It seems to me that a name, anyone's name, is really a reflection of their parents' hopes and aspirations for them and we all know that children usually have their own idea of who they are - sometimes quite different than what their parents expected.

I.J. Parnham said...

I had a discussion about naming characters on a forum last year in which I stated that Felicity could never be feisty. A fellow author then decided to prove me wrong and immediately named his female lead Felicity and made her very feisty.

I've only just found this out and when I dug out the original post where I made the claim I found that I also said that Thaddeus could never be a hero. I'm currently wondering whether I'm up to the challenge of proving myself wrong!

Paty Jager said...

Names do put an image in your head. But sometimes it's fun, as I.J. stated, to give them a name that doesn't sound hero or heroine quality and make the name work.

I have a baby name book right next to my dictionary and thesaurus. The three books I use the most.

Fun post Loretta!

Lauri said...

Thanks, Loretta, for another fun post! I love naming characters. I'm also one of those people who names of people I've met, stick with me, sometimes not in a good way. I knew a Matthew years ago who the most obnoxious child ever, and since then, though I've met many other, wonderful, kind Matthew's, the name still sends a shiver up my spine. Just because of that, I'll probably never name a hero Matthew...a villian, possibly....


Linda LaRoque said...

A few of those names weren't bad, Loretta, but I agree the majority needed changing.

Naming characters is hard for me. I think I'll bookmark some of those favorites you listed.


Loretta said...

Thanks everyone for dropping by. I always enjoy reading your comments. I'm like some of you, the name Ricky makes my teeth grate. He was a kid from elementary school who took delight in hurting other kids, both physically and with cruel remarks. I'd probably never name any of my male characters Ricky--unless, I made him a villian and then killed him off.

Tanya Hanson said...

Great post. I did knew a few of them..e.g. Jane Seymour named herself after Henry VIII's third wife.

I too agonize about names. I think we all do, but one of my pettest peeves are historical heroines with WAY too modern-sounding names, like Madison and Skylar. They'd be better off as Mary or Laura. Somebody wrote at a blog once she'd rather have a medieval heroine named Eunice than the Tiffany who was tripping around in the medieval she was reading.

I also read recently that most of today's "celebs" are using their real names. Interesting.

Ps. My son is Matthew and is a true angel!

Great post, Loretta. Thanks also for the links.