Synesthesia (sin-es-THEE-shah) is a neurological condition that is not well understood but it basically means the person has a blending of the senses. There are a few different kinds, but the one I want to focus on is grapheme-color, where letters and numbers evoke a sense of color.
Each grapheme-color synesthete’s alphabet looks different and not everyone with this type of synesthesia literally sees the letters/numbers in color. I always saw the colors evoked only in my mind, but it had real-world effects.
How does this apply to my writing? Well, when I’m creating names, the colors I associate with each letter change how the name appears to me. I have changed which verb or adjective I use in a sentence because the whole phrase is prettier in one way.
For example, one of my characters is named Chakran. About 20% of the people who read the story pronounce his name correctly on the first try (hint, it rhymes with “Captain”). A lot of people go for “chakra” with an “n” at the end. So many, in fact, that even I have been known to switch back and forth between pronunciations!
A much simpler spelling is “Chakren.” No muss, no fuss. Easily understood.
Currently, I write it “Chakran” in my drafts but am planning to change it (sorry, Wandering Penguins, you get the draft version) when I actually submit the manuscript because I absolutely hate it when writers use a name that is difficult or confusing–especially for a major character. My philosophy on character names is not all that detailed but basically, a character can be named anything so why make it hard for your reader to pronounce it correctly (or at all)?
But back to the whole synesthesia thing. Why do I write “Chakran” in the drafts when I plan to change it? Because I can’t stand the “Chakren” spelling. Seriously, it makes me physically uncomfortable just reading it. Writing this post is causing me to doubt my decision to change the name altogether… >.>
I can’t stand the alternate spelling because of the letter “e.” It’s yellow.No, it’s not just yellow. It’s bright yellow. It’s Big Bird, in-your-face, swallowing-the-whole-name bright gross yellow. It’s also one of my least favorite colors. It’s like having sunshine shoved down your eyeballs.
On the other hand, “c” is green and “a” is red and together they sort of dominate the name so it has this nice symmetry and blended color to it. It looks something like this:
It’s like Christmas!
The individual letters are like this:
C H A K R A N
But the green and red overpower the others. It looks so smooth. The yellow in “e” however, is brighter than any other color, so the alternate spelling looks like this:
With some yellow color bleeding around the outside so it’s also in a halo of yellow nonsense.
So ugly, right? Like Christmas’ winter wonderland with only yellow snow…
Like I said earlier, I’ve pretty much outgrown my synesthesia but because I worked on this manuscript while these colors were pretty distinct, the name issues still stick with me. Chak is the major victim here. I changed my main characters’ names a little over a year ago, so I don’t really have the same issues with them. In addition, because my synesthesia has faded, the color spectrum I still associate with letters has faded, too and is much more limited than I used to be. I suspect that someday, I’ll write a book and none of the names will trip me up because of some ugly little letter overwhelming the rest of the word.
I’m not sure how I feel about that. Huh.
For those interested, I’ll wrap up this post by writing each major character’s name in the color(s) I associate with it.
What obstacles do you run into when creating new names? Leave a comment below and tell us!