What’s in a Name?

By: Erin Rose Hennessy and Emily Eileen Moreshead

What’s in a name? Names can be powerful monikers. Most of us are given a name that our parents carefully chose at birth and those names have the power to potentially shape our entire lives. Naming characters can be difficult too – picking just the right name for the personality of our character is one of the most important decisions as a writer.

Character naming can be quite the process, taking into account meaning which often correlates to the personality you are trying to write for, decade-type and popularity at the time of the character’s birth, and/or ancestry. If your character is an Irish immigrant straight off the boat you know to expect Aidan Donnelly or Sean O’Reilly as an acceptable moniker. For the characters we write, an Italian family based in New York, there are many options.

Their family name is distinctly Italian – Riccoli, and the names of the parents are still solid in Italian roots. For the children, we picked names that while still honoring their Italian heritage were more commonly used in America in the 1970s and 1980s. The eldest daughter is named Jennifer, which was an intensely popular name in that time. Not a name we typically see among today’s more uniquely named River and Apple.

For the children, all being born in the 1970s and 1980s, it was important that we used names recognizable to the era and common enough to readers. We certainly didn’t want name stumbling!

Being born in the 1980s myself- I was given the Irish name Erin to reflect our Irish heritage. My middle name, Rose, was a top pick for a first name, but I have an older cousin with that name already. My grandmother wanted my name to be my mother’s name – Jo Ann, and my father voted for Brooke Trout. So, I guess Erin Rose was a good compromise!

My mother told my four older sisters well before I was born that Emily would be their next sister. Well of course she was right and chose it from one of the popular soap operas at the time. Looking back at the way the character grew it to be it seems comical because I’m certainly not as diabolical but definitely ingenious. In Mom’s defense though, the character in 1980 was a cute little girl so I guess that at some point in my life I was adorable.

Names are a fun tool to help build a character’s personality. The name Heidi belongs to a red-haired girl with pigtails. The name George belongs to a balding 60-something man with round wire-frame glasses. What are some of your favorite names?

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