Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I Need a Character Name - Quick!

(March 2, 2009)

Naming the characters in my stories has always been something of a struggle for me. Sometimes I'll hit on something that sounds right in my ear the first time, but often a character will go through several names before I settle on something. Maybe I overthink the issue, but it seems to me a name needs to fit the time period, and it needs to evoke something of the character's personality, and it needs to have a rhythm that reads easily. I always know this is going to be my least favorite part of writing something.

Well, I've hit that point in my current project. And I have an additional problem this time -- the characters who need names are the first of the Cherokee characters who will be in the story. I will be using several actual historical figures in Cherokee history, but these two characters (father and son) are completely fictional. The son, in particular, will play a key role in the story so he needs a good name.

From what I've been able to gather in my research, a number of the Cherokee at that time (1820s) had (or took on) anglicized names, perhaps in an effort to show themselves as acculturated. For example, Elias Boudinot (the editor of the first newspaper in the Cherokee language) started out life as Gallegina Watie (or Oowatie). That became "Buck" Watie since Gallegina meant "deer." But when Gallegina/Buck decided to attend a missionary school run by whites, he adopted the name of his financial benefactor, Elias Boudinot. It was a name he kept until he was murdered for his role in removal of the Cherokee to present-day Oklahoma.

However, I've also seen in my research Cherokee who kept names that aren't exactly familiar to ears accustomed to English names. Some are clearly Indian names, like Ta-ka-toka, while others seem to me to fall somewhere in the gap between cultures, like John Jolly or George Guess (who is better known as Sequoyah).

So....what do I choose as names for these characters? I could simply go with anglicized names and be historically accurate. However, that might imply an attitude toward white culture that I don't really want these characters to have. But I am very uncomfortable with trying to come up with Cherokee names for the characters. What I want are names that show these characters have adopted some elements of white culture (they are going to be farmers), but that still have something of a unique quality to them.

Hmmmmm....I think it's time to go do some dishes and some heavy thinking.

1 comment:

Augustina Peach said...

Nan Hawthorne said...

We need more info on this.. what is the relationship of the two characters indiviudally to white culture? The names could help express this. For instance, having one character use an Anglicized name but with an English translation of his Chrokee name as a middle name.. could show compromise on his part.

I always found it interesting while growing up in SE Alaska that families from the native villages sometimes had men's first names as last names.. so for instance the last name "Jimmy". The reason seemed obvious to me.. the woman had a child, the Indian agent asked for the child's name, and the woman just gave one name. The agent asked for the last name. The woman looked uncertain. The agent impatiently asked "What's the father's name?" and the woman answered "Jimmy". In a culture that had no need of family names why would she even care what Jimmy's white father's last name was?

Maybe that's another thought.. think about the why of the names.. as you mention the one fellow took his benefactor's name. European names tended to come from some distinction... "John? Which John? There are four of them?" "Oh... JOhn who lives by the brook. John Broook." When Indians took names not born with they did not need that reason.. so they just took something they associated with. Not unlike "slave names" only with some amount of choice.

You aren't alone in strugglilng with names, believe me. Poor old Harold Earl of Grantham in my book started out as Jehan, a French name that didn't exist yet.. then I made him something like Godred but I worried.. and I was right! ... that people would complain about the Saxon names.. harold is Saxon but more familiar. So Harold it was. The one regret I have is that Harold Godwinson is a hero of mine.. but the name Harold is not seen as strong or heroic these days.. and I am afraid the hen-pecked andopportunist Harold of Grantham isn't exactly strong or heroic either... not much of a tribute to my hero...