Monday, January 25, 2010

‘What’s in a name?’

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."
Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)
William Shakespeare (1594)

This line from “Romeo and Juliet” says a lot about how we perceive things. Would a rose smell as sweet to us if we called it a turnip? Your mind automatically says no, but then think what if that was all you knew it by. Then turnip would represent something sweet and beautiful. (Not that a turnip isn't already to some people).

A name sometimes tells us a lot about a person or thing, while other times it tell us nothing.

An example, most who read this blog may think Mason Canyon is a male. The name sounds masculine so it must be, right? If you’ve looked at the profile, you know different. I’m a female.

Why the masculine name then? I really didn’t think about it being masculine when I decided on it. Mason comes from the love and enjoyment of watching "Perry Mason" when I was growing up. Until I was a senior in high school, I wanted to be a lawyer but got sidetracked by journalism and when that route instead. Now I collect old editions of Earle Stanley Gardner's "Perry Mason" books. Canyon was the name of my first horse, Canyon Son. I just like the way the names went together so I’ve used that pseudonym for years when writing book reviews.
I decided to use the pseudonym writing my book reviews because they were separate from the hard news I normally wrote. It was a different part of my writing, so thus a new name.

If you read the two previous posts here, you were introduced to the ladies of the Mystery Lover’s Kitchen and noted that they use various pseudonyms depending on what they are writing and for whom they are writing. I think most authors follow that tradition.

Another quick example is Nora Roberts. When she writes what I call romantic, light-hearted novels, she writes as Nora Roberts. But when she writes the hard crime thriller featuring Eve Dallas, she writes as J.D. Robb. Same person, two names, two different styles of writing.

Now I don’t use a pseudonym because I’m an author. I use it because this blog is where I review books, feature authors, and discuss reading and writing. This type writing is what Mason Canyon does. Mason’s domain.

You can’t always judge a person’s gender by their name. I know five people named Terry. Four spell their name Terry and one Terri. Of those five only one (Terry) is a male. There was a lady I knew all of my life by the name of Dean, when she passed away I found out her real name was Nadine, but no one ever called
her that. So names can be misleading sometimes.

Talking about names, how much emphasis should a writer put on a character’s name?

Think about Scarlett O’Hara. Would that character have grown to the image it is today if she had been called Betty Smith (not that there’s anything wrong with that name)?
 What about Rhett Butler? Would women have swooned over the name Carl Jones (nothing wrong with that name either? Or is it that these characters were so strong that our images are based on that and really has nothing to do with their names?

I’m sure you can think of numerous names that bring visions of various books to mind instantly. But which came first - the name or the character? Is it the same with every book that author writes?

I’ve often wondered if an author selects names for their characters and then builds their description from that or do they have an image of how the character will look and a name comes to them as they write. In that case, I guess you’d say the character created their own name.

How hard or easy is it to create names for your characters? Do your characters hide behind names that don’t suit them or names that make them appear to be someone else? What is your method of naming your characters? Oh, a rose by any other name ......

Now for the winners of the recent book giveaways. The winners have already been notified, but this is to let everyone else know who has won which books.

LOVE IN 90 DAYS: Brenda R. of Madison Heights, MI; Heather S. of Georgetown, IL; Rebecca G. of Fayetteville, TN; Victoria S. of Houston, TX; and Judy P. of Midwest City, OK.
SEDUCED BY A ROGUE: Ann C. of Sioux Falls, SD; Renee G. of Valleyford, WV; Joyce S. of Conroe, TX; Susan P. of Pembroke Pines, FL; and Nancye D. of Louisville, KY.
A BLACK TIE AFFAIR: Karen K. of Monessen, PA; Carol K. of Schertz, TX; Jemi F of Marie, Ontario; Joy H. of Saint Peters, MO; and Carolyn Y. of Fort Collins, CO.
CORKED: Janel G. of Freeland, MI; Stacey B. of Goldsboro, NC; Eleanor H. of Greenville, PA; Emily L. of Forest Lake, MN; and Amy S. of Glencoe, MN.
FUGITIVE: LSU Reader is the winner, please e-mail me at with your name and address so we can send your book.


  1. Excellent post, Mason. Names are certainly intriguing. I love the reasons you're using Mason Canyon - I liked the "feel" of the name from the beginning - like it more now :)

    My characters usually come equipped with a name, but not always. I can't write anything until they do. :)

  2. Mason - Names are so interesting, aren't they? They give the reader an immediate mental picture of what a character is probably like, and to me, that's fascinating. Some of my characters' names come from real people whose names I just thought were really interesting. Other names have just occurred to me because the first and last names sounded good together. In my WIP, two of the characters' names actually came from winners of a name-the-character contest I had on my blog. I think writers get their inspiration from lots of different places.

  3. Intereting how you came up with that name!

    All of the characters in my books have simple, solid names, and many of them Biblical. I probably knew a little about the character first and then the name just came to me.

  4. I'll confess to being a "Terry" who's published a book titled "What's in a Name?" so naturally I was drawn into this post.

    Character names are important, and there's more to naming than just finding the 'right' name. You have to make sure no other characters have similar names so you don't confuse the reader. We may have friends with the same names (can you imagine a book with 4 Terrys?), but readers don't have all the auditory and visual clues available in real life.

    One writing prof said that the characters names need to sound like their parents named them, not the author.

  5. There is definitely a science to naming characters!

    You're in the South too, so you and I know about the male Shannons and male Ashleys!

    Mystery Writing is Murder
    Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen

  6. Character names are very important. Sometimes they're easy, and sometimes extremely difficult, but always important.

    One thing that turns me off to some books are names that are overly cute and names that are overdone. Like Terry said, names that sound like they were written by the author. They need to sound real to me.

  7. Jemi, thank you for the kind words about the name. Like I said, it hold special meaning to me.

    Margot, I like the idea of putting the names together because they sound good.

    Diane, some of the names in the Bible have such a wonderful sound to them when you say them. I like unusual names, but not so unusual that people can't pronounce them.

    Terry, I'll have to check out your book. That sounds interesting. You're right, four of any one name in a book would drive the reader crazy.

    Elizabeth, so true about the Shannons and the Ashleys.

    Carol, a name does have to fit the character. A nickname being cute is one thing, but not the name unless there's going to a running joke about it somehow.

  8. Kudos to the winners. Names are to me very impoportant. In my last novel, Owen Fiddler, all the main characters have names with meanings relevant to the morale of the story.

    The Old Silly

  9. I loved learning about how you came up with Mason Canyon!

    Interesting post. Since names are so much a part of who we are, it's always been fascinating to me to wonder what it would be like to have an "alias."

  10. Marvin, giving meaning to the characters' names makes the novel more interesting and intriguing.

    Ingrid, I think you should give it a try and see what "alias" you come up with.

  11. I select characters names from books around me. A first name here, a last name off that book cover. I once named two security guards Hendrix and James because I heard a Jimi Hendrix song being played by a neighbor. Sometimes its just that simple.

    Stephen Tremp

  12. Stephen, by naming your characters after songs like that I can see where you could give them certain personality traits to give your readers clues about their names. That would be neat.

  13. Thanks for sharing how you came up with your pen name.

    A name can say a lot about someone, and I believe it is important to spend time with your characters to find out the "prefect" names for each of them.

  14. Kerrie, a name does go along way when writing a novel. Some names fit the characters perfect and no other name would ever work.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.