Brent + Hildred?That Wily Shakespeare

In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Juliet makes the argument:

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

Bollocks to that!

If the play had instead been called Brent and Hildred, or Addison and Payton, or any other combination, I’m not sure it would even have survived for us to study in high school.

A name is part of the package, not separate from it. A great name can make a character, or person, more special. Why do you think Frances Gumm changed her name to Judy Garland, or Mark Vincent changed his name to Vin Diesel?

Name Choice

In screenplays, you only have a small amount of space to introduce your characters. Ensuring they have the perfect names can immediately:

  • give the reader a heads-up as to what your characters are all about
  • help a reader keep track of numerous characters
  • suggest a character’s station or status in life
  • enhance a character’s personality and identity
  • make your main characters stand out from the pack

The Name Game

And why do well-chosen names make characters pop? Because that’s the way it works in real life. There’s a power in an aptronym — a name aptly suited to its owner.

  • Of course Megan’s last name is Fox.
  • Of course Usain’s last name is Bolt (world record holder for the 100m and 200m sprint)
  • Of course Tiger’s last name is Woods (these days his name has a double connotation).

The other night I saw a commercial for a show called “High Society” on the CW network. It’s a reality show about Manhattan socialites and their less than upper crust behavior.

The main celebutante is a woman by the name of Tinsley Mortimer. Tinsley Mortimer! Seriously, could she be anything other than a socialite?

Final Thoughts

Here’s a great quote by George Axelrod (The Seven Year ItchBreakfast at Tiffany’s, The Manchurian Candidate) on the subject of character names:

Someone said to me recently, “Computers are wonderful. You can just push a button and change a character’s name.” Change a character’s name! In my opinion, you’ve got to go to court and throw the whole script out if you have to change a character’s name. The name is part of his identity.

H/T to this Go Into The Story post for the quote.

Speaking of Go Into The Story, Scott Myers (I love that guy’s blog!) has this terrific article on character names that I highly recommend reading. In addition to discussing the importance of appropriate character names, he lists some of the pitfalls to watch out for.

The moral of the story: make your names count.

What are some of your favorite character names, or appropriately named people?

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