Once I was holding a reading, and a woman asked me, "how do you pick your names?" I believe what this woman wanted to ask me was, why did I pick a particular name? The name Malcolm in SHADES OF RED. I have found myself realizing that there is confusion surrounding this, and I'd like to begin a discussion about this. Do other writers experience issues with names?
When I chose Malcolm for one of the main characters in this SHADES OF RED, it may sound strange to some, but I felt like he needed strength. A strong name that would contrast a bit of his bad behavior. It was my hopes as the creator of the character, that he would fill the stature and the regal aspect of his name. I chose a name that would represent the multi-faceted wholeness that can encompass one human being.
Sometimes, I have written a character and they have a small part, but they play a role in the larger scheme of the work. I have to almost grab a name out of the sky. In that sense, I read about many figures past and present and I believe in a oneness to humanity. One person may see a name, and believe that it has a political connotation, when in fact to the writer it is sacred, but also to be remembered.
I admit, in SHADES OF RED I quarreled within myself about the name. And every time I wanted to change the name, I couldn't because I was rooting for the character. I wanted to see him healed and transformed. In my first novel, I had an indifferent teacher who was somebody else in my mind. I had the worst time for a name for him, so, I randomly picked a good black girlfriend's name because he was white. How about my girlfriend's name was Jewish and I never thought about it? Down the line, I was embarrassed, but I knew that I meant no harm.
I suppose in the spirit one can't write a novel, but I admit, in the spirit I write. My characters come from a place in my imagination that I know and humble accept that I am a vessel. The page is a place of honesty, and the written word should always instigate discussion, not hate or bitterness. For me, it's an idea of expansion and as I write I think of my own experience in the world and in my culture that have come together.
I hope my thoughts on names have helped someone who struggles with character names, as I have and as I do.
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