Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What's in a name?

I have been having a bit of trouble with the name for a character lately and it has spawned this totaly self indulgent meandering about names of characters and how we give them names. Having just recently gone through the task of picking a name for an actual child, I was amazed that it was much less of an ordeal than some of the characters I've named.

There are a lot of resources out there for authors as well as prospective parents. Book stores and even your local library are filled with baby name books. I have a few favorites that I go to over and over again. First is 50,001 Baby Names by Diane Stafford. What I like most about this one is the lists in the front of it. Lists of names from different ethnicities, names for artists, names for athletes, names for serial killers, (no joke) and dozens more lists. Then there's the Writer's Digest's Character Naming Source Book that was compiled by one of my all time favorite writers, Sherrilyn Kenyon. This book is organized by ethnicity and then by male and female. One of the best features, aside from it being one of the few places you can actually find list of common names from almost any country you can imagine is the section at the front of each category that tells the common surnames and rules for surname/given name placement. If you are writing a character from a country where surnames or family names come first, you want to get the placement right.

The Internet is a great source too. is a frequent go to because it lets you sort by gender, nationality and meaning. I needed a name for an earth elemental spirit. Actually I needed names for four of them. I was able to type in words like earth, forest, woods, etc. and came up with the names for the elementals in the book that has just recently been contracted by Cerridwen Press. Keita, Adem and Damek are three of the earth elementals that you will meet in Circle of Wolves. All of their names come from or relate to "earth".

Of course, I've had a recent problem with a WIP where I wasn't comfortable with the character's name. That is a problem when the character is the main character, the one telling me the story. Sometimes I can convince the main character to change a secondary character's name or to let me pick a name for them, but I've never been able to alter a main character's name. It just runs contrary to how I write. I take dictation from a character that is born in my head and begins to tell me their story. Sometimes they tell it straight through like Luke whose story, Lovers' Stone, is coming out in July. But then that's Luke. He just tells you how it is, no messing about. Tarris, whose story is contracted and in my editor's hands was different. He took several months to tell me his story. But then he's a more subtle, secretive sort of guy.

The winner though is Evan, the hero in Circle of Wolves. He's spent the last four years telling me his story. Evan was never one to push or be rude. He'd just smile patiently and wait his turn. Until recently. Then just as he grew in his story he suddenly became more demanding and finally finished his story.

But I digress. Changing my main character's name is sort of like telling a new friend, "I know your name is John, but I'm gonna call you Blade because it sounds cooler."

So Memory, who is not only the only female who is trying to tell me her story-- it's always been my boys before, she has a name I'm not crazy about. But she is who she is. I guess I'll just have to accept her and love her as she is.


Amarinda Jones said...

I like coming up with odd names. I'll hear one and write in down for a future story. I have some beauts lined up. I like the name Memory...Blade is so-so but that's just me. I like the unusual an not teh down to death

Molly Daniels said...

My characters usually tell me their names too...I get hung up on the last names. Then I'll either go to the phone book or yearbook and randomly select one.

Or I'll do the same if I suddenly need to name a character and s/he tells me to pick one!

Anny Cook said...

Sometimes that's just the way it is... And far be it from me to talk about unusual names!

Epona, Chrysanthemum, Dennac, Undain...

Jacquéline Roth said...

I'm sort of the opposite. I like normal names. I'd keep the name John. I've had a James, a Mark, a Luke and, coming soon, an Evan. Tarris was as out there as I get and I'm not even sure where that came from.

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