Sunday, November 25, 2012

Dink - What’s in a Name?

One of my followers asked about my pups, particularly the one called Dink.

“How did you come up with a name like that?” she asked.

Dink - my writing partner sits
by me on his hassack
Dink was actually a gift to my wife, Sue, on
one of those “special” birthdays. Blond miniature Dachshunds are rare, and his personality dripped with affection. My wife wrestled with names for him until she settled on a tough-guy name, Axel, and planned to get him a collar with bulldog-style pointed studs. Sure, the little guy was hung like a bull, walking bowlegged to deal with his natural endowment, but her macho name for him simply did not fit his diminutive size and gentle character.

He loves everybody.
During my twenty years as a pro bass fisherman, I spent weekends trying to find the biggest fish possible to win as much as $50,000. Small fish annoyed us and got tossed back as “dinks” that wasted our time. I jokingly called Sue’s puppy Dink, because he was so small. His head popped up and ears tilted forward at the first sound of that name. He liked it.
Dink never did answer to that name Sue gave him, but he responded immediately to the derogatory small fish term. It stuck. To this day, his tail wags instantly when he hears his name. More importantly, his sweet disposition never changed. As I type this, I am sitting on my living room couch with Dinkie right beside me. He’s waiting for me to drop my arm enough that he can lunge up to my face and slam his cheek against mine. It’s his way of hugging . . . he can’t get enough. His name definitely fits his temperament.

What’s in a name? Do names carry expectations? Can they convey images to readers?

I think so, but writers need to understand that their personal biases may not be shared by others. If you had an arch nemesis in high school named Buddy, would your life-long distaste for that name carry the same feeling for your readers? Jazmin came to mind for me recently when looking for a special female literary name. My wife liked it, but when I ran it by another friend, she laughed and asked, “Why do you want to use a stripper name?” She even yelled across the room to her husband, asking what he thought of the name. “Stripper!” he yelled back without hesitation.

Would Luke Skywalker have been as compelling if he was named Willy Bangwater? How about Harry Potter? What if he was named after a local pub owner . . . say, Jon Smith?

In my opinion, names will not make or break a character—only the story will do that. But, I do believe carefully selected names enhance a character and make the story more memorable for readers.

That said, do you have a favorite character in literature? If so, how much influence did his or her name have on your impression?


  1. I agree, names do enhance a character--adds to it.

    This post reminded me of a discussion I had with my wife about naming kids. So many pick out names before the child is born. Does one name a dog before they even see or get it? I figured that having a list of names and then waiting to see the child born to finalize was the way to go. Although I did point out that in truth, my wife, carrying our first daughter (and our 2nd some years later) did have a connection that I didn't, so her picking names before giving birth made sense.

    As far as dogs, our get a name, but they also get nicknames, that tend to stick--and fit. Sort of like Dink's name emerging after Axel.

    Fun post to read!

    1. Terry, I think there are some well-known names that may carry preconceived expectations for some readers; names like Adolf, Jesus or Osama. Then, there are names that suggest toughness or lack thereof because of their sharp or soft tone. For example, Jack "feels" tougher to me than Julius. I can see Jack charging a machine gun nest while Julius sips wine with his pink finger in the air.

      Interesting, this issue of selecting names for characters. Thanks for your post...Dean

  2. Love the Dink story! I agree with your thesis as well. It is a rare character in my books who doesn't name shimself. I figure if they care enough to pop their heads up, I should honor that. I get to know them and care about what happens, even if it's a name I have less-than-positive associations with.

    1. Sharon, the hard part is figuring out if your own reaction to a name is personal or more general and likely to influence a reader's impressions.

      As far as Dink, he usually sits beside me for hours while I write or lays on my feet, particulary annoying during summer heat and deeply appreciated in winter months.

      Thank you for your comments...Dean.


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