Why is it that choosing a name for someone seems like witling characters out of stone? I mean I can see the necessity to name a real child, but why should it be so hard for a character? In my opinion, it’s because they seem so real to the creator. I cringe to say this because I’ve been told your book isn’t your “baby”, but the people between the pages seem to be.
Sometimes as soon as they come to life in my imagination I can call them by name. Other times I have to use their characteristics (or archetypes) to christen them with one. This is when I call upon babynames.com. I love this site! Not only because you can scroll through pages after pages of names and their meanings, but because you can actively search by a meaning or even part of one.
For example, Zara in TIES OF VALOR has undergone three name changes. Her original name was way to close to another I’d seen, so I decided to see what names meant princess. And I also wanted it to be opposite of the hero’s name—Awyn Shandar. So Zara Dior hit the right chord, with a touch of timeless class.
The task is an even bigger challenge when naming a group of people, because you have to mix and match their monikers’ without using the same sounds. It’s especially intricate when trying to carry over a theme. For example, I wanted to thread dragons throughout BELIEVE IN ME, so I made the heroes’ names signify the mythical beasts because they bear their mark. To that end I searched for Dragon at babynames.com and got a list to springboard off of. I ended up with Terry Drago, Kaida Hardy, Varick Long, and Drake Brogan. I chose Terry to go with Drago because it means Tender & Gracious, which were two characteristics I wanted this gruff guy to be sensitive to. For the same reason I chose Hardy as Kaida’s last name because it means Courageous and Strong, which are symbolized by her intensity to see her mission through the most personal of struggles. For Varick, whom I affectionately refer to as nerd-boy, I wanted to portray his Honorable side that never backs down under the direst of circumstances. Finally, I chose the last name Brogan for Drake, because this hot-head is a Sturdy and Strong lifeline that’s always in the thick of things to pull his teammates through. As soon as he came to mind, I dubbed him Drake the rake, which I’m sure you can guess the correlation between.
For the heroine and hero I deviated from the plan, simply because I wanted them to be different from the rest of the Dragons. They became “Rad” Eadoin and Jacqui Valere. I wanted him to be an Advisor and for her to be a Protector, as both their names imply. And their nemesis had to be a Hunter, to portray a man I’d built up to be a major baddie, so I named him Kacela Theron.
Out of all the characters I’ve named, I’ll admit the most fun I had was during a search for alternate names to do an American Idol spin-off in PERFECTION NOT REQUIRED. Simon Cowell became Simone Piaza, Paula Abdul transformed into Paulina Caelan, and Randy Jackson turned into Randall Slade. Other cast members that rounded out the secondary characters were Loralie Locke based on Kimberly Locke and the heroine’s best friend Lucy London based on Latoya London. My heroine’s name was Dara Carlton, because I wanted to push her Compassion to help others. The hero, Kendall Gregory, was a combination of two ho-hum names because I wanted it to be non-threatening like his geeky persona. I chose Gregory because it meant Vigilant and Watchful, two qualities a self-help therapist better have. However when he becomes undercover snoop Ken Sexton, who got his name based on a chance meeting with Dara at Susie’s Sin-sations, there’s nothing laid back about him.
As you can see there is a wealth of whys and why-nots to steer any writer to and/or from a name. (Especially those like Bobby, Willie, Mitzi, Bubba, etc. that come with preconceived social connotations.) But as a writer friend told me during a pow-wow, make sure what you pick is something you can live with incase your readers decide they love that character you kinda just threw in to liven the mix. Keep it tucked away in the back of your mind that if you get a live one who connects with readers, that name may one day be your brand (ie. Stephanie Plum, Kinsey Millhone, or Lt. Eve Dallas ). So choose wisely, not just at the drop of a fedora!
Do you have a favorite character’s name? A certain one that comes with a story of how she/he got their John/Jane Hancock? Blog it out there for us all to share!