Saturday, April 16, 2011

N is for Names

Dear Names,

I have always had a fascination with you.  As a teenager, I studied names.  A lot.  I could tell you the origin and meaning of soooo many.  (N is also for Nerd, and yes, I am a giant one.)  When it came to naming my kids, my hubby and I picked ones that we loved, and yes, my children have names from Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, but they're names I adore with great meanings behind them. 

Character names are so important, too.  They're part of the characters' identities--sometimes the name helps define a character, and sometimes the character helps define the name.  When it comes to naming characters, I have three primary ways of going about it:

1. The character waltzes up and introduces himself/herself.  It doesn't matter what I think of the name; they are very insistent that this is them and I can just get over it.

2. I pour over baby name sites until the right name hits.  I oftentimes know what letter the name should start with, so I'll hunt through the E names until I find the right one, or whatever other letter it is.

3. Depending on the story/character, sometimes it's just "throw a name and see what sticks."

When a character is named, most of the time it doesn't change.  There have been a couple of exceptions to this.  For example, when I first began plotting out my current novel, Rising, I was sure my character was going to be Alphonso.  I was like, "Ooookay, that's the name you want, fine."  Then, as I started to get a glimpse of his personality, I realized that he was very different than I thought he was going to be, and that Alphonso was a little too much for him.  So he became Alphonse.  It suited him much better. Amazing what changing one letter can do. 

Sometimes, there are themes.  In my 2009 NaNo* novel, I had the family with six girls, and they all had names from Greek mythology.  In my 2010 NaNo novel, my character also had a name from Greek mythology.  Fortunately, it was just one girl this time.  It was a little different, though, because she was named after a male figure.  (I may have a thing for mythology, okay?)

*NaNo is short for NaNoWriMo AKA National Novel Writing Month. It happens every November. More things that start with N, woot!

Once, I named a character from a street sign.  Well, twice, but the second time was unintentional.  I had searched high and low for the right name for this character, finally found one on a baby name site that fit, and then realized it was the name of the street on my corner.  I should have just been looking at street signs instead of the baby name site and maybe I would have saved myself some time.

All in all, dear names, I really enjoy the process of finding the right one for the right character.

A Name Nerd

*How do you name your characters?  What do you think of names of characters you read?  If you're reading about a character with a name you hate or love, does that affect your thoughts on him/her?


  1. Naming characters is definitely a challenge. I usually put in a place-filler first and then go ahead and change it once the character is fully developed.

  2. Interesting post! I obsess about character names as well, not just because they have to 'feel right', but I even check details like geographical spread, etc. to see how likely that particular name is to occur in the area where my WIP is set.

    (I know ...)

  3. I've been told that I tend to go for androgynous names, and when I think about it, it's true. But the meaning or connotations of a name is always really important.
    Like you, sometimes a name just pops into my head, other times it takes a lot of hard work to find just the right one. I use a lot of online name generators going through pages and pages of results.

  4. I love, love, love names and naming things. Even though we are done having kids, my poor husband still has to endure me suddenly firing off "What do you think of THIS name?" at him. (Which is when he gets a slightly panicked look in his eye, wondering if this is my way of telling him surprise! we're having another. No, I always tell him. I was just curious.)

    I tend to write fantasy based in a particular type of region or era, so I find my character names from that region/era. My most recently completed novel was set in a Wales-type land, so all my characters have Welsh names. So much fun! The one I'm writing now is set in a fantasy version of Renaissance Europe, so I'm scouring histories for names from England, France, Italy, etc. And sometimes a name just comes out and grabs me, and the character, and sometimes even the story itself, builds around that!

  5. damyantiwrites-There was one time I chose a name as a place-filler, and it ended up sticking permanently. ;) Typically, I just can't write until I have a character name established.

    K.C. Woolf-That's awesome that you research that! In my current fantasy books, I chose to use names primarily from one part of the earth, to have a consistency with the countries of this fictional world.

    Angeline-You're so right. Meaning and connotation are really important--a name is part of a character's definition.

    Elouise-I LOVE Welsh names. The fantasy world I built for my current projects (I'm writing two books--one is about finished, the other one I'm about to start), and it has four different countries. Pretty much all of the characters have names from Wales, Scotland, and England. My main girl character, Mairwyn, was the first Welsh name I picked. (Of course, since the Welsh 'ai' is pronounced 'eye,' her name is said differently than it looks in English.) And you're writing a fantasy version of Renaissance Europe! That's so cool! (World-building makes me excited, too. It's always so neat to hear about what other people are doing.)

  6. We wanted to name our last child Luke, but we both knew we would only be able to say his name in a Darth Vader tone. So we went with a popular name that he wouldn't hate us for later.

    As for characters, I don't name them until I know who they are. Usually the name comes to me. If I'm stuck, my daughter is always happy to brainstorm with me. Any characters that are sort of like her get earthy, hippy names.

  7. I can spend hours trying out different names for characters. It has a lot of weight in my thinking. I'm probably too obsessive on this point, but what are you going to do?

  8. Tonja-Haha! I knew "Luke" as a Biblical name before Star Wars, so that doesn't immediately make me think of Darth Vader. :D But that is awesome.

    septembermom-I don't think it's obsessive--the name defines SO MUCH of a character (at least for me) and it can take me hours of pouring through names to find the right one, too.


Thanks for sharing your thoughts!