Week of June 10, 2012: Finding Inspiration
Monday, June 11—The Origin of a Name
On my shelves there are at least three books about baby names. Frequently I scan the internet for lists of current popular names, most popular names of the 1950s, names originating from certain countries or locales, and so on. I’m obsessed with names. I’m inspired by names. I know that every picture book character needs the just-right name. Sometimes the sound of a name can even inspire a story. (For instance, Anna Laura would inspire a totally different story than the name Eunice Mae.)
I often ask students, “What does your name mean?” or “Where did you get that name?” The answers are usually: “I don’t know” and “My parents gave it to me.” Both answers are indicators of a need for some research! The sheet below shows a mini-research project I do with students before beginning journal writing. Since journals are all about their owners, I think it helps if the owner knows a bit about himself/herself. What better place to begin than with one's name?
As a picture book writer, you can benefit from knowing more about yourself and your name, too. You can also benefit from learning as much as you can about the name(s) of your character(s).
You can see that the sheet guides you to list your first, middle, and last names. (If you have more than three names, add the needed boxes to the back of the sheet.) Now comes the fun part—research. Find the origin and meaning of your name. Perhaps you’re named after your Great Uncle Ernest, that’s part of the origin of your first name. But there’s more to know—for instance: from where did the name Ernest first originate? Then you want to research the meaning of the name. You can often find this information through simple searches on the internet (always consult more than one source to ensure that the information is accurate), genealogy sites, family oral history, and so on.
So what can you do with your completed sheet? Here are some ideas:
1. 1. Write a description of yourself using the information you gathered.
2. 2. Complete additional research about what you learned. (For instance, if your name has French roots and you don’t know of any French ancestry, you’ll want to dig deeper into your family.)
3. 3. Brainstorm and see what writing ideas come from your name, its origin, its meaning, and the other bits of information discovered during your research.
What else can you do with this sheet?
1. 1. Use it to help develop a character profile. Give a character a first, middle, and last name (even though you only plan to use the first name in the story). Then discover the origin and meaning of each name. See what additional character traits you might be able to add to the character from the informational you gather about his/her name.
2. 2. Use the sheet to help you evaluate if the name you’ve chosen for a character is a best fit or not. Perhaps the name sounds right, but with some research you discover that there are better fitting (and perhaps better sounding) names that would make your character’s personality deeper and more rounded.
3. 3. Complete research on other people’s names. You just might get hooked!