Monday, June 18, 2012

Do Your Characters Make Good First Impressions? Part Two

In Part One, I talked about naming your characters, and how that name might affect the first impression they make. Today I'm going to talk about ethnicity, religious affilliation, and socio-economic status, and how your character's name will suggest to your reader any one or all of these elements. All part of that important first impression.

Suppose when the reader meets your MC, she is told the MC's name is Caitlin O'Hallahan. This immediately sets her up in the reader's mind as both Irish, and most likely, Catholic. So now we have ethnicity and religious affiliation as part of the first impression... all because of the name.  If the story bears this out, all is well and good. The first impression has been made, it's correct, therefore we can trust this author to not deceive us later on.

Now we have Milana Giordano and Rebeccah Feinstein. Can we correctly make the assumption that the first girl is Italian and the second is Jewish? We can...IF the story bears that out. Another MC is named Jamila Raboud...probably Arab, probably Muslim. But again, the story must bear this out for us to be able to trust that the author knows what she is doing when it comes to her characters' names.

Naming a character can also give the reader a first impression of the family's background and socio-economic status. For example, what do you think about this character's background: Nicholas Alexander Wainscot III? Wouldn't you think that a) this young man comes from a wealthy family;  b) the family is from a long lineage and proud of it; c) he is likely to be an arrogant and self-entitled snob who looks down on his peers. Maybe he is most of those things, but maybe "c" is undeserved and uncalled for. Be sure that your character "lives up to" his or her name, or that you have a very good reason for him not to. And if the latter is true, don't keep your readers in the dark for very long as to that reason.

On the other hand, let's say you had twin girls named Ima and Ura...and their last name was...drum roll...Hogg. Yes, I said...Hogg. Ima Hogg. Ura Hogg., I'm not way out in fantasy land somewhere. There were actual twin girls, once upon a time way down South in Texas, named Ima and Ura Hogg. What do you think your reader's first impression of these characters would be? Poor? Uneducated like their parents? ( Surely educated parents would never name their girls like this...) Living in some hobo camp or some kind of urban slum? That first important...would be all wrong. Ima's name is pronounced Ee-mah; Ura's is Oo (rhymes with "coo")-rah; and Hogg is pronounced Ho ( like "hoe")-gug ( rhymes with "jug"). In the 1800s, they were from a very wealthy family, and their father was Governor.

Now are you getting it? Naming your characters is a very important part of your story, and you have two options when you name them: 1) make the name a true and realistic part of their personality, of who they are, and make sure throughout your story that the name continues to be indicative of that; 2) surprise the reader with a twist to your MC's name, something that he would never think of with respect to the name, BUT have a very solid and realistic reason for that twist. AND don't keep the reader in the dark for very long, before that reason becomes obvious. You need to keep the reader's trust in you, trust that you actually do  know what you are doing when it comes to naming your characters, and making that name be an essential part of the first impression.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.


  1. Mikki, those twin names left me laughing! I needed that :) This is a great, eye-opeing post. Thanks for sharing, and I'm happy to realize that I believe my main characters' names live up to the test (and I didn't even mean for them to!).

  2. Most people laugh hysterically when they see those names, but not knowing how to pronounce them, they think's it's EYEma and YOURa Hog. But it wasn't! Parents don't think sometimes about what names can do to a kid..I knew twins in high school, born on Dec. 25th, who were named Merry Christmas Evanston and Christmas Carol Evanston. They were very pretty girls but always teased unmercifully about their names. We all need to think before we name...children OR characters!

  3. Oh my, poor Ima and Ura Hogg. Those are some unfortunate names. Great post, Mikki. Names are definitely important and can put a lasting impression in the reader's mind.