Playwrights: how do you go about choosing the names of your characters?
Ever since my wife and I had the humbling honor of naming our son, I’ve been re-examining the way I choose names for my characters. What I realized was that I had been approaching the problem, for some reason, literarily: looking for names that, in their etymological roots, suggested traits I wanted my characters to embody. How silly is that? It seems silly, anyway.
But what alternatives are there?
Try as I might, I haven’t been able to come up with a new… well, a new philosophy, let’s call it, for how to choose names. I started, for a while, trying to just choose names that “felt right,” but that method was too wishy-washy for me. I thought that perhaps I ought to choose names that would carry the cultural associations I might want them to carry for my audiences… but that’s an impossible task, really, given that we don’t all respond to, say, Wilhelmina or Enrique or Thomas in the same ways. After a while, I thought that perhaps I ought to choose names that sounded beautiful, or even just names I could listen to over and over again, like Julian Beaumarchais orÂ Blackie Rupp or Frances Teague, but I really believe that a character’s name ought not call too much attention to itself. On the other hand… ordinary names that disappear into irrelevance just bore me.
I am clearly at sea.
My only consolation is that, having named my son (and, I should add, two cats), I have come to understand that no matter WHAT name I pick, those who use it will almost immediately find it expected, natural, normal, perfectly reasonable.
And yet: I want them to be more than that. I want them to sing, to pronounce their brilliance, to elevate the play.
Am I asking too much?