Lily Iona MacKenzie's Blog for Writers & Readers


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.

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