Tuesday, August 29, 2006

What's In A Name?

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!


MK Mancos/Kathleen Scott said...

I fall into two camps on this...Usually my characters tell me who they are, and we are formally introduced. Sometimes, I have to look them up to get the right sound. Sometimes I'll look at traits, but other times no. I named a police chief in "Immorati" after Karl Urban from LOTR, just because I thought he was too yummy for words in that movie- of course I didn't use Urban, but I did use Karl, even though it isn't my favorite of first names, I can live with it for the sake of the character. And yes, he's getting his own book.

In a book I'm currently developing that has a humorus bent, I named my heroine Keeley, after Keeley Smith from the Eddie Prima Orchestra, because I thought her name sounded so fun and lively, and would fit my heroine to a tee.

I noticed I tend to use a lot of hard K or C names for women...but then given my name it's understandable.... Men usually get a very Gaelic sounding name, or a name of power. In my novel By A Silken Thread, the hero is Marcus. I love that name and no one calls him Marc, it's always Marcus. The novel I just completed writing has a hero named Campbell, and my current WIP is Tristain- even though the character lived in Vienna. So, what...his family migrated....hehehehehhee...

I also think it's important for your hero and heroine's names to sound good together. I wouldn't stick a Bert with a Antonia, or a Clive with an Ophelia. It just doesn't work. Well...maybe the Clive and Ophelia doesn't sound so bad...especially if I think of Clive Owen....mmmmmm Clive Owen.... All right. I lied, definate possibilities there.

Skylar Masey said...

For the life of me I can't imagine why some celebrities are naming their kids crazy names. I mean why shouuld a child duffer with the name Otter? Or something as odd as Moxie Crimefighter Penn? And I thought Apple was bad.

If you want to see what else stars' have come up with to catch the spotlight check out this article.


Angela Verdenius said...

Oh, choosing names for characters can be frustrating and rewarding! LOL Especially trying to choose names that sound sci-fi, but are not difficult to pronoucne.

Even then, it's funny how we all read a character's name differently!

I can't say I have any great brain waves. I get a name book, go through it, try a few different varients...some I have made up, but I couldn't honestly say it was intellectually LOL. But it is fun!

And hey...the characters are our babies. We gave birth to them literally, we nutured them, got angry with them, argued with them, cried with them, laughed with them...okay, maybe I'm the only nutty writer that does that! ROTFL


Lynda K. Scott said...

No, Angela, you aren't the only nutty writer to do that :D

I admit to having difficulties naming the characters. Sometimes it comes to me in a flash, sometimes I twiddle around for days trying to come up with something better than "Hey! You! Dude-man!"

All I know is that I can't really write a word until that name is firmly in place. And then, once it is, I can't just change it wily nily (some folk have suggested I change the heroine and hero's names in Rider (Tara and Trace) because they both start with T). However, that said, if an editor buys the book and says change one of their names, I'll do it.

But they'll always be Tara and Trace to me.