What’s in a character’s name?

I was having dinner with friends the other night that had read my novel Fling! They wanted to know how I came up with the main characters’ names—Bubbles and Feather. When I tried to pinpoint the moment when the names tumbled onto the page, I couldn’t.

When I worked backwards, I realized that all three generations of women, from the youngest, Feather, to the oldest, Feather’s grandmother and Bubbles’ mother, were named Heather, just as I was originally named after my mother, Lily. Since it would be too confusing to have all characters using the same name, I had to distinguish them. Heather, the grandmother, retained her name. The shift from Heather to Feather was easy because of her hippie/new age origins and interests. It was clear she was going to be out there in many ways, floating like a feather through life.

Fling_fullcover_4-13-15 copy

I think Bubbles came to me in one of those moments when the character actually named herself. Heather would have been too staid a name for this character. It didn’t capture her effervescence and overflowing life force. Bubbles also is rotund, like the ancient statue of the Venus of Willandorf, an image that’s on the front and back cover of the book. So the name captures some of that quality as well. But the word bubbles also has a negative aspect, which the character also does: she acts at times as if she were trapped in a bubble and it prevents her from interacting fully with others at important times.

Once the main characters’ names became clear to me, so too did their personalities and how they needed to be developed. In many ways, the foundations of the work fell into place at that point, though, of course, I still had many hundreds of words yet to write.

The Mystery of Identity

Identity intrigues me. How are identities formed? How much is innate? How much is nurture? How much is beyond these terms?

Identity is on my mind today because I met a man for the first time who is the son of one of my oldest male friends. He had contacted me a couple of years ago when he first learned his actual last name. He began researching on the Internet and discovered I had written an article about his father, a well-respected Canadian artist. He had never met the man. He had never seen his picture. All he had was information his mother passed on, in addition to my lifetime experience as one of his father’s closest friends. We had met in the fourth grade, and during a spin-the-bottle game at a party, we each for the first time kissed someone of the opposite sex.

What amazed me during our meeting today is not just the physical resemblance of the son to his father, but he had a beard as his father did. Then his facial expressions and gestures made me feel at times as if I were in his dad’s presence. But he also shares his father’s love of the wilderness—both are mountain men types, able to spend lots of time alone in that environment. None of this was learned. It appears to have been inherent.

It makes me wonder just what role destiny plays in our personality development. Are there some things we can’t avoid in our personal evolutions in terms of the person we turn out to be?