I have some favorite words, some that I love to speak, and some that delight me just by their appearance.
One of my favorite words to say is “Euclid.” I love the feel of it on the back of my throat. Similar for “ungulate.” Now, neither of these words is particularly appealing on the page, however. In fact, ungulate is distinctly unappealing.
But I love to see the word “fifty.” I don’t know why. I simply find it elegant. It’s like the old Roger Moore movie that I liked just because of the name, “Ffolkes.” Double-f? Awesome! And the word that makes me smile every time I see it, purely on visual enjoyment alone, is “boobs.” It’s so playful! It’s so round. It’s so pleasing to the eye.
It makes me smile.
Then there are the words I simply hate to read, not because of what they mean, but because of how they look. Lung. Oxen. Rotten. Blanche. Quixotic. Coarse. Hunch. … Ack. Keep them away!
I’m not just indulging myself here. There is a writing point to this entry. Name selection is vital, especially for your main characters.
If the name isn’t pleasant to look at, your readers aren’t going to want to see it on the page time after time. And if it can’t be said in your mind easily, that could also be a turn-off. Think Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, the main character in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Being Russian, Dostoyevsky can get away with giving his character such a handle, but that’s probably not something you want to do on a regular basis. The patronymic Raskolnikov doesn’t roll of the tongue of the mind, and your readers would likely find themselves “bleeping” over the name, time and time again.
Plus, I hate reading a book where I can’t keep the characters straight, because there is nothing distinctive about the names or the names are too similar to one another to keep them straight. Ishmael, Dr. Nemo, Holden Caulfield, Tom Joad, Dr. Frankenstein, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Voldemort, Scout and Jem and Boo Radley…these are memorable names that stick with you, unique from the others in the book.
Play with the language to choose your names, as well. What other meanings might the name have? Nemo = Omen. Ishmael as an outcast, one set aside. Say the names aloud. Does it sound right? Does it look right on the page? Does it say something about the character: Huck Finn vs. Tom Sawyer.
Enjoy words. Play with them. Be aware of the different ways in which your readers experience words. Not all will experience them as you do. Make use of that knowledge.