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MARIELENA ZUNIGA ON: THE POWER OF NAME

October 19, 2009

Marielena NewConsider the power of a name. What do you imagine when you hear Ebenezer Scrooge, Holly Golightly or Heathcliff? If these names stir feelings in you, a remembrance of plot and place, credit their enduring authors. It’s no accident that great writers name their progenies with care.

Here are more names of worth: Rhett and Scarlet (need I say more?), Sherlock Holmes and Frankenstein. As I said, naming is powerful stuff. In Puritan times, girls were named Faith or Chastity to live up to those virtures, while Native Americans named themselves and their children to reflect their lives and actions. Do you remember “Stands with a Fist” in the movie “Dances with Wolves”? Her name told me the essence of her being.

The truth is, names have great power, and naming in and of itself is a great power. The Bible tells the story of God giving Adam the power to name the animals and other parts of creation. The process of naming is a creative act, one we participate in as authors.

We birth our characters and then christen them, with names of meaning and worth, sending them off into the happy, sad, romantic or mysterious worlds we’ve created. Most of all, we want readers to remember their names. As famous speaker/author Dale Carnegie once said, “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” While our characters are fictional, we want their names to be the “sweetest and most important sound in any language” to our readers.

In my thriller “Deadly Habits,” for example, I chose the name Milagro for my protagonist because it means “miracle” in Spanish. She is half Mexican and I wanted to convey a sense of the miraculous in a life filled with secrets and unforgiveness. It also conveys a sense of the spiritual, as this 40-something renegade woman struggles with her life in the convent. To name her Susan or Betty, although nice, would not have had the same cojones for this character.

It’s often been asked, “What’s in a name?” The answer would seem to be “Everything!”  Names tell readers who our characters are at the deepest levels.  And for writers, it’s the ultimate power trip. So, go forth and christen your characters — and make their names one for the books. Literally.

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