Thursday, February 9, 2017

I'm Terrible With Names

I saw a post on Facebook yesterday from a writer friend looking for name suggestions for a character. She gave a few details about the character's personality, and her friends and fans filled her feed with suggestions. Sixty-eight and counting last I looked! Pretty impressive-- especially since I can't come up with sixty-eight possible names, period.

Which got me thinking about naming characters, in general. I use the ultra-scientific method of going with "what feels right." In my first book, my main character is named Zosia, which is the Polish equivalent of Sophie. It was important for her to have a Polish name (her mother was Polish), but that was my only requirement. A Polish friend of my grandmother's when I was little was named Zosia, and when I looked up the name and found out it means "wisdom" I was sold. Also, it conveniently shortened to "Zo". Again, super scientific.

My hero in that book was originally named Liam Flanagan. He was Irish and I LOVED his name. Until my editor said, "Liam seems to be a really popular name right now. I think you'd be better off changing it to something else, especially since Zosia's so unique." What??? I'd written and edited this book as Zosia and Liam's story and now I had to make it Zosia and Random Guy's story? I didn't, of course, but that's how it felt. And when Liam became Finn, the readers of my then-unpublished book were none the wiser, but it took me awhile to get on board.

Fast forward four more books and my method is pretty much the same. There are names I'll forever avoid because of various associations. (Lucy, although a lovely girl's name, is the name of my dog. She's blond, friendly, very outgoing...and a Labrador retriever.) Surnames are hard and I get a lot of inspiration on this front from Facebook. I'm very much against names that are hard to pronounce just for the sake of it, so taking a syllable or two of an existing name sometimes works. Or even borrowing a first name. 

Of course, there are authors who choose their character names carefully, looking at meaning, historical usage and popularity. I'm always super impressed when I read an interview with a writer and he/she is asked, "How did you name this character?" and their answer is well thought out. As in, they have an answer and can give reasons. (I also thank my lucky stars that I'm never asked that question.) 

Which leads me to my question for you: if you were asked, what would your answer be? Do you have a very unscientific method or are your character's names deliberate?

6 comments:

  1. Great post, Brenda! I do a bit of both methods, but it's mostly a 'feels right' approach. I do look at if I need certain types of names, such as in my current book I needed some Irish names. When I discovered one of the primary names I wanted to use was also an Irish name I knew it was right :) I only looked up the meaning of a name a couple times when I wanted the name to have an underlying meaning for the character. I had a situation in Shattered Angel where no name felt right for my 'villain'. Nothing I came up with felt right and then it dawned on me - he doesn't get a name. So I never gave him one, and that felt perfect. I will say that I do seem drawn to names that start with the letter M for some reason...

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    1. I like "he doesn't get a name" for a villain. That's perfect!

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  2. I'm shit at naming character. I always end up using the same initial for everyone and it gets confusing. And I'm beholden to the era, so if they were born in 1999, let's say, I want the name to reflect that. So I used the Social Security Baby Name Index a lot. I also like the website, Nameberry.

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    1. I love Nameberry. Although never thought of Social Security Baby Name index. Going to add that to my bookmarks.

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  3. Great post! I LOVE naming characters, but I have the opposite problem. I overthink them. Every aspect of them. Do I have too many C names? Too many two-syllable names? These 2 names both randomly relate to birds, is that okay? I mean WAY overthink. I love the comment above about a villain with no name. I may use that as a prompt just to force myself into that mindset for an exercise!

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    1. I love that idea, too. And I admit I DO love it when names are deliberate and, as a reader, I can tell and I "get" the reason for it. I just feel like if I started down that road, I'd NEVER name my characters!

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