Just don’t call me late for Dinner!


Have you ever read a story where the character’s name didn’t fit them? I don’t think I have and that makes me wonder how much writers struggle to find their characters’ names. Do they keep a file of names, just waiting for the right person to come along? Or are their characters named in a process similar to naming a child?

name-tableThere has to be some sort of process because not just any name will do! Names in books reveal the time and space from which that person emerges. It can tell us which authors have inspired this new writer, adding a layer to the story.

I’m really not sure why I have this ‘thing’ with names, why I notice them and wonder about them so much.

I was named after both my grandmothers and as a child was always called by my middle name. When I entered school, I was suddenly “Edith” and there were a few who tried to shorten my name. I didn’t like that, well not until high school and I decided to chop my name and and became “Edi”. I was taught to put title on all letters and forms and to ‘put a handle’ on all the nuns’ names!

Of course, students never called me Edith or Edi! Well, not until Taiwan. Students there call westerners by their first name. (There is this global belief that Americans like to be called by our first names,) I became Teacher Campbell/Laushi Campbell.

I found it really, really odd when I moved 60 west of the Indiana city I’d lived in for 30 years and the culture changed so much that students were suddenly calling adults by their first name. On campus and even in the city, young people are on a first name basis with adults. I’m feeling less shock and getting more gentle in my request to be “Ms. Campbell” but, still… awkward! baby-names1

An author friend recently told me that a criticisms from  one of her teen beta readers was that it felt so wrong for  teen character to call her mother by her first name. I cant’ remember seeing this often in YA, though I know it happens in real life. I just finished a book where the MC called her estranged mother by her first name, until she found out that’s what the mother wanted and then, in true teen fashion, she began referring to her as ‘mom’.

Does it matter how we address those older than us? I believe we should err on the side of formality until invited to be less formal. I know not everyone feels the same. Some just don’t care. They just don’t want to be called late for dinner.