By Any Other Name, Would The Character Be The Same?

A close-up of a red rose flower.

A rose by any other name would still smell sweet, but would a character?

I’ve never really liked my name. When I was really young, I couldn’t pronounce it. Later, in elementary school, I had  a heck of a time spelling it. In secondary school, I got teased because of it. At that point, I made tentative plans to something much more ordinary. But by the time I got to the age where I could change it, I decided not to. It seemed like a hassle. And I had more important things on my mind, anyway.

Anyway, I’m not sure what the logic was to my parents choosing a name that is essentially a man’s name (especially in the U.K.), but I’m not convinced they actually thought it through. As for myself, when I choose a name for a character, I try to make it somehow reflect a certain aspect of their personality (whether in an ironic way or not). Other times, I name a character after a famous or semi-famous person. That way, I can attribute certain characteristics to that character quickly and easily, without having to show them all through a vast array of scenes and dialogues. Here are some of the names I’ve used in my books and why I chose them:

In Fragile Creatures:

I started doing this with my first novel, Fragile Creatures. The name Juan Maria Echevarria, the protagonist in the novel, came from a mix of the founder of Opus Dei and the current Prelate of the organization. The reason for this is that the protagonist is, in many ways, very secretive and very conservative. I chose the name Juan as opposed to Jose because I wanted that name to go to another character in the novel and I did not want to cause confusion between the two.

The nickname Pepe (from Jose Antonio) was important for me because it added to the ridiculousness and clown-like personality of the character that we see in the beginning of the novel. Later on, as we see that he’s much more than a clown, Juan Maria chooses to use Jose Antonio, mostly to show respect and to show how his attitude changed toward the character.

I chose the nickname Lorca for Federico partly because he was supposedly a writer and seemed to have a sense of charm that the famous poet also had. But the other reason was that, in some ways, Federico did not seem to want to play the full role of who he really is. For example, when friends ask him his opinion of things, he wavers and never really answers directly. He’ll commit sins he knows he should not commit, but will not truly confess them to an authority. And when he does finally become shockingly honest in a letter, he does not sign his name. He uses a different one. The pseudonym or nickname “Lorca” is a personality he can hide behind so that he does not have to be himself. Of course, his good friend Carlos is, in many ways, the opposite of Lorca. You might have noticed that Lorca spelled backwards is Carlo, which further highlights their opposite natures (this is something a reader identified and something I did not notice until he told me. I guess the issue of names is also sometimes subconscious for me.).

In Destined for Greatness and Other Stories:

In the story “Gloria to God in the Highest,” I chose the name “Gloria” because of the reference to Luke 2:14, and to the fact that the character felt lifted by the change to such a name.

In the story “Creating Family,” I chose Pa Juanito and Pa Riquito to refer to the two protagonists, Juan Maria and Federico, from my first novel. Meanwhile, the daughter, Paquita is a reference to Jose Antonio, whom she was named after. It was a way to quickly find out what happened to the two characters from the first novel without having to write an entire novel about it.

In Evening Prayer:

I originally named the protagonist “Gabriel” because of the person who inspired me to write the novel in the first place. However, once it occurred to me that the name is that of one of the main angels in Christianity, I decided to name his sidekick Michael and his priest-friend Rafael. That way, these characters would be seen as angels, and not like devils like so many authors and other religious leaders have portrayed gay characters in the past (the name Andrew Greeley immediately comes to mind, but I know that there are many others).

Of course, the protagonist comes up with offensive, clever nicknames for people he encounters but does not know well, like Sister Queer, and Brother Asskiss. The reason for this was to illustrate what happens when one hears bits and pieces of a person but does not know the whole story. And this referred to the larger theme of the dangers of keeping situations hidden from the public and possible embarrassment.

The name Phil, the lover of the protagonist, was also intentional. His name referred to what Gabriel thought he did for him, which was to fill or complete him. Especially at the beginning, Gabriel believed he could not be complete or could not survive without another person. He was dependent on Phil.

Would these characters have been the same had I used different names for them? Honestly, I don’t know. A few years ago, when I changed my last name to match my child’s, I did notice that people started to take me a little more seriously. Was it because of my new last name? Maybe it was all in my mind. But I imagine that if I had used different names for these characters, I might not have inclined to give them the personalities they had in the stories. They might have been different by any other name.

 

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About L.M. Gil

L.M. Gil, a writer and English teacher, worked closely with Roman Catholic seminarians for several years. Born and raised in Upstate New York, she has lived in Europe, the Middle East, and the Southwest of the United States. She lives with her family in the Baltimore area.
This entry was posted in Fiction, Fictional Characters, Kindle Fiction, naming characters, Self publishing, short stories, use of names of characters, Writing fiction and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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