The The Pioneer Woman calls the man in her life the “Marlboro Man”. Chris Cree of SuccessCREEations calls his wife “Gorgeous”. I refer to my husband as “hubby” in my blog posts, a contradiction to the tall, handsome, Mensa-brilliant, multi-lingual engineer I love and adore. What do you call the lovers, spouses, friends, and family members in your blog posts?
Whether you are a personal blogger or business blogger, there always comes a time when you need to refer to someone in your life who would rather remain anonymous, protecting their privacy, and sometimes your own. What names do you use?
I read a blogger recently talking about her family, referring to her three daughters as the young daughter, middle daughter, and oldest daughter. While I respect the privacy protection of the children, it became very confusing to know which daughter was in which part of the story.
Another blogger was trying to tell a story about a party with at least a dozen people critical to the story’s point. She mentioned “my oldest friend’s boyfriend”, “my boyfriend’s sister”, “my sister’s friend”, “my sister’s boyfriend”, and “that guy friend of mine who isn’t really a friend”. I was so confused with all the unnamed characters, the point of the story was lost on me.
Choosing a name for the characters in your blog posts often defines them. It gives the reader clues and insights into the character’s personality and history. A name like Alexander Nikoleski identifies the person as having some Russia historical connection. As Lorelle VanFossen, I’m often accused of being Dutch. My husband’s family has Dutch connections that ended in the late 1600s when they came to the United States, and I took on his name without a lick of Dutch DNA that I can find in my veins. So not all names match reality, but as pseudonyms in blog posts, perception is all that matters.
Names in fiction often carry the burden of helping to define the character, and a blog post may have not much time for character development. The choice in a name could speed up the connection between the reader and identifying the character.
Name Calling Blog Tips
Here are some tips for name calling in your blog posts when you want to name the characters involved without revealing their identities:
- Create a List of Your Cast of Blog Characters: If you have only one to four characters in your blog, it’s easy to remember what you call them. Have more and I recommend you create a list, and keep it easily accessible, of your blog’s cast of characters and descriptions. This way, you will know which one to call upon when you need them.
- Choose “Real” Names: Create pseudonyms for recurring characters in your blog posts using real life-like names. The names can be similar or different from their real names, but memorable. It’s important you remember who is which who is whom in your list of characters, as will your readers.
- Choose Memorable Names: The best names of fictional characters in history are often symbolic names, strong memorable names. Pussy Galore, Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter, Tokyo Rose, Harry Truman, Franklin Roosevelt…these names evoke memories and symbolism for the historical characters they represent, as well as the distinctive pronunciations of their names. “Franklin Roosevelt” just sounds proud and presidential, doesn’t it?
- Give Them Strong Descriptive Names: Like Pioneer Woman and Chris Cree, they’ve chosen easily identifiable and visual descriptive names for their cast of characters. Marlboro Man creates an immediate image, as does Gorgeous. Sally Slippery can be the con artist or the sex pot in your stories. Change the name to Sally Squeamish and the perception of the character changes.
- Sound Effects: Pronouncing “Hannibal Lecter” and “Darth Vader” sounds threatening. Allison Winklestein does not. The sound the name makes in the head of the reader can often influence their perception of the character’s personality. Harsh sounding consonants often make for harsh character names. Soft, melodic letters of the alphabet infer gentler, kinder individuals.
- Identify Them By Relationship: Instead of youngest daughter and oldest daughter, in a list of daughter characters, why one Daughter One, Daughter Two, and Daughter Three. Be specific with your relational descriptions. There can be more than one Mother-in-Law in a family, so give the relationship name some added definition, such as Mother-in-Law-Terror or Mother-in-Law-Cookie-Maker.
- Capitalize the Names: In English, proper names are capitalized, which gives us a clue when you use an adjective to name someone. Calling someone gorgeous or Gorgeous puts emphasis on the name calling with the capital letter.
- Avoid Racial Names: While descriptive names like Sally Slippery creates a visual character images, Black Sambo, Black Boy, Jewish Princess, Yada Yada Yadtze, Killer Himmler, and other names which evoke strong negative stereotypes and racial slurs may not be the right choices for your name calling.
- Use Names With Geographical Connections: Sometimes, you want a name that represents where the character is from to identify them. Tulsa could be a name for someone from Oklahoma, as a Texan could be called Dallas. Sevilla could be someone from Spain.
- Named For a Famous Person: In a recent television episode of Boston Legal, a chicken called “Ronald Regan” was introduced, creating a strong association with the former US president which added some “humanity” to the chicken and its plight. I don’t recommend choosing the name of a living person, unless applied to a chicken or something non-human or plays into the plot line. There are many names from our history that create strong visual and character representation that we can use to name our characters, such as the Marlboro Man.
- Avoid Disconnected Names: While your real life friend from Spain may be named “Fred Alexander”, a not very Spanish name, if you want to name them something that identifies them as Spanish, consider changing the name to one so easily associated with Spain, such as Frederico Alexia. Try not to confuse your readers with names that don’t match their expectations of what someone from Spain should be called, unless that is part of the story you are telling. Also avoid any name that will cause the reader to stumble across it, spending more time trying to figure out the name instead of reading on through the post.
- Proper Names versus Nicknames: Which is stronger? Robert or Bob? Richard or Dick? Suzanne or Sue? If the character is a strong figure in your story, then maybe a proper name would be wiser than a nickname. Still, “A Boy Named Sue” tells us a lot about how tough a guy can be when he grows up with a name like “Sue”. Many of us cheered for “Buffy” the attacker of vampires, indicative of a character’s ability to overcome a weak name. Do you have the time in your blog posts to develop the real personality behind the name, or just choose one that works for the moment?
- Names Replaced By Nicknames: “…we just call him…” When identifying a character within your blog post, part of their story may be that the person has a “real” name, but everyone calls him by his nickname, a name that often describes the person better than the real name. Orson Scott Card created one of his most powerful characters, Andrew Wiggin in Ender’s Game, with the nickname “Ender”, which describes the young man’s character from many different perspectives, from being the last one born to being the last one who can save the galaxy. A strong name like Sherlock Holmes sounds strong today, but imagine a 6 year old boy named “Sherlock” today? What would be your nickname? Shirley? Sherl? Consider if it helps your blog post for the character to have two names, a “real” name and a nickname.
- Use The Star Treatment: A few decades ago, it was popular to name a mysterious character using asterisks, Mr. F*** or Mrs. B****. I’ve seen a few bloggers using this similar technique with dashes such as Mr. F— or Sally S—–. Modern and international readers are often unfamiliar with this technique, so many stumble across such names in blog posts, but it is an alternative.
- Once You Are Stuck With It: Choose a name for your characters carefully. If your blog gains in popularity, or your character starts playing a greater role in your blog posts, you may be stuck with the name you choose for a long time.
In Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, he admits that he was not ready for the public reaction and enthusiasm for the his character, Death. The character speaks in capital letters and welcomes the dying into the next…whatever. He admits that he created the characters originally as part of a joke, but his bigger than life joke became a major character, evolving beyond the joke. He warns in the book on the Art of Discworld by artist Paul Kidby to take care in creating a one-off character. You never know where that character might take you, and you may be stuck with him for a long time. More than 36 books later, Pratchett knows of what he speaks.