Sunday, October 31, 2010

Name game

Let’s talk about names again. Names, like titles, are important. Who are the most memorable characters you’ve encountered in literature? Do their names say something about the characters? I wanted to name a geologist “Rockford,” and call him Rocky. Too much? Too coincidental?

Psychologists say that some people are attracted to professions because of their names. Dr. Cleaver is a surgeon. Dr. See is an ophthalmologist, Dr. Fish is an oceanographer. Using literal character names can “say” something about someone, although the connotations of names can be a hit or miss.

I like V names. Evelyn, Sylvia, Victoria. Strong names for strong women. Do initials spell anything? Does the spelling of a name mean anything. Does Sylvia Bragg brag about her children incessantly? You can play around with names for a while to see what you can come up with. Jennifer Lutz sounds different from Jenny Masterson.

Do you have a baby name book? Or do you look up the meaning of a name when you name a character? If I have a name in mind, then there’s no problem because sometimes the name just jumps out at me. But when I have difficulty naming a character, then I go to lists that help me with meanings, popularity and unique names for unique characters. By the way, a student recently told me he knew someone named “Unique.” 

Quiz time!

Can you tell the approximate ages of these characters just by their names?
Ethel, Esther, Dorothy vs. Shannon, Tiffany, Brittany. Which of these two groups of women carry AARP cards in their wallets?

Loretta, Lorraine, Louise vs. Katie, Caitlin, Kristin. Which of these two groups of women run track in high school or college? Who would have had a hip replacement?

Jack, Bob and Bill vs. Aiden, Connor and Ethan. Which of these two groups are entered in a diaper derby? Which group knows how to repair your lawn mower?

Remember, popular names come and go. Names, like all language can date a piece of writing, or tell something about a character. Don’t overlook the implications and connotations of names.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

More on words

Oct. 12, 2010

More on words and language. I love talking about words and language, and am fortunate that I get to talk about it in class tomorrow. Words define us, words scare us and words stir emotions in us. “Woman,” “cancer,” “fallen soldier.”

The denotative meaning of a word is its dictionary meaning, or the “official” meaning, and the connotative meaning is the emotional meaning attached to a word. Think about the words “mother,” “death,” “love” and “patriotism.” They all mean different things to different people. I once asked my class to define “feminism,” and got as many different answers as I had students in the class.

Words are symbols, and meanings are in people, not the words themselves. Even a simple word like “cat,” has a denotative meaning and a connotative meaning. A cat is a furry, four-legged domestic feline that meows and purrs. Most people would agree with that statement. But how we feel about cats, well, that’s another story. Maybe you love cats, and have seven or eight of them waiting for us when we get home from work each day. Or maybe someone you know and love has a cat that terrorizes you whenever you visit.

Enrich your writing with words that strengthen your characters and plots. Define your terms, and explain their importance to help us understand your characters and what makes them tick.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Word of the year

According to the American Dialect Society, http://www.american of the year, the 2010 word of the year is “tweet,” and the word of the decade is “google.” Both terms come from computer terminology, and refer to aspects of communication, which I appreciate, and sometimes struggle to understand!

The 2009 word of the year was “bailout,” and 2007 featured “subprime.” I don’t know the exact criteria for selecting the word of the year, but members of the society can nominate and vote. According to a 2006 press release, members are instructed to select a word or phrase that is “newly prominent or notable in the past year.” They also note that the group is not acting in any official capacity of a governing body.

The ADS website states “Founded in 1889, the American Dialect Society is dedicated to the study of the English language in North America, and of other languages, or dialects of other languages, influencing it or influenced by it. Members include academics and amateurs, professionals and dilettantes, teachers and writers.”

After reading the article, I tried to come up with some great words of my own, but nothing seemed important enough to warrant such an honor as “word of the year.” There are so many great words that it’s hard to choose. I’m glad someone is doing it, though. The question is, what do you wear to the awards ceremony?

Talk to you soon,