What’s In A Name?

To broaden my writing skills, I enrolled in a Screenplay class. You know writers, always dabbing their ink in a bit of everything.

One of the things the instructor said that I found especially interesting is that there are no accidents in movies. He said everything that happens on the screen is on purpose.

For example, one of the things he addressed was character names. He said most names are selected intentionally. The examples he gave were from When Harry Met Sally and Titanic.


Let’s start with Harry Burns. In the beginning of the movie, Harry has “burned” every relationship he’s ever had. Then there’s Sally Albright. I had to admit, Sally was pretty cheerful. Even when her fiancé dumps her she doesn’t cry about it. She remains “all bright” and sunny.


I still wasn’t totally convinced. Then he talked about the Titanic’s hero Rose. What describes Kate Winslet’s character better than a delicate flower known for its elegance and beauty? Then he brought up Leonardo’s character, Jack. He pointed out that Jack got on the ship by winning in a poker game.

Wow. Ok, maybe there is something to this.

So I started thinking about a few others.

Rambo: Sly was always trying to ram a bow through someone.

Twelve Years a Slave: Solomon Northup. This one’s easy. Solo man—a man on his own. North Up—Wanting to go back North where he belonged.

The Wolf of Wallstreet: Jordan Belfort…Bell Fort. He basically builds a fortress from money and power by using the bell of Wallstreet.

Jack Reacher: Hero reaches out to save her-oine.

You get the idea.

Of course, it doesn’t work on all movies. Pretty Woman, The Notebook, Pride and Prejudice. Maybe we could stretch the correlation that Mr. Darcy could dare-see into the heart of Ms. Bennett. Like I said, it doesn’t work with all movies. However, in my instructor’s defense, some of those were written as book characters first.

Regardless, my teacher was on to something. As I started plotting my new story, I tried something different. Usually I let my characters name themselves, but this time I put my instructor’s strategy to work.

My heroine is an FBI agent trying to prove to her father, and her three brothers that she’s as good at her job as they are. I came up with Roberta “Bobbi” Lawson. Bobbi because her father wanted all boys, and Law-son—well that speaks for itself.

So my question to you, writers of the world, is how do you decide on names for your characters? Do you do as screenplay writers and purposely put in a subliminal message? Or, do the names come to you in a different way?

I’d love to hear about it.

Remember to Dream Big!



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