Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Naming Names

Characters are like children-you have to give them names before you can send them out into the big bad world.
As authors, we spend countless hours mulling over, researching and finding names for our characters. But unlike children, our characters have usually developed personalities in our heads before we decide upon their names.
Lucky them.
Kids get a bum rap, especially those in dare I say it–Hollywood. A few examples: Rumor Willis, Pilotinspector Lee, Moon Zappa and Kal-el Coppola Cage.  (okay so the last one’s cool- who wouldn’t want to be named after Superman’s real name.)
Okay, so authors aren’t as crazy about character names as celebrities are, apparently. But we spend just as much time trying to make our characters stand out as they do their children.
But why do we do this? They are after all, just characters in a story.
Plane and simple: our characters are what sell our stories. And their names are how we introduce them to the world.
Hi my names is…
Sorry Slim Shady I’m not talking about you. Go away already.
But seriously, everybody has a name, every name came from somewhere.
What affects the names we give a characters:
A, number one answer—Personal experiences:
We all know someone or someone who knows someone that has a story about someone with that same name.
We all have an ex who we’d like to see thrown off a moving train, so why not give the character who’s gonna end up in that situation the name of said ex. HEHE. Haven’t done it yet, but maybe I will soon.
We all have someone we think should be immortalized in the pages of our novels for some great reason or another.
The meaning of the names:
You  know you’ve looked up a name before bestowing it upon some unsuspecting character.  And yes readers actually look up names. I had someone from my critiquing website, OWW look the name below up and comment on it to see if I knew what my characters name meant.
In my first MS-The Last Scion -I spent hours searching for the perfect name for my female MC. I wanted something that meant: Death and/or dying. And MORANA does. It’s a variation of MARZANNA, the goddess of death.
Maybe. But I wanted her name to be indicative of her purpose in the world. She’s a vampire/human half-breed created to evolve the vampire species. If she’s aloud to breed with other vampires, her offspring will rend hell on humanity.
If you have a character who is from Ireland you want an Irish born name. It goes without saying, you can apply this one to just about any country or period. If you have a character that is 3 centuries old, and s/he hasn’t changed their names, you’re gonna want to do some research to find a name from that time frame. You can’t very well name him Landon—a name that is fairly common now may not have been so back then.
It’s just a really cool/uncommon name:
We want our characters to stand in a crowd and be noticed, so we choose a name that isn’t common in the area/time of our novels. A name spelled in a funky way will stick in a readers mind.
I am guilty of this one for my Nano novel Light.
I was at Safeway (grocery store) and the checker had a handy little name tag on. Oh, we gotta love name tags. Her name was Aleaktra. Spelled that way!!! Little did she know I was plotting and scheming to steal her name while she was ringing me up. Hopefully she doesn’t mind, but oh, well if she does. Snicker. Snicker.
And yes, I have seen the Jennifer Garner movie Elektra, but that’s traditional, not even MS WORD picked the name up as spelled wrong.
These are the things that affect the names I give my characters:
Personal experience
The Meanings of Names
Really Cool/Uncommon

Why do you choose the names you choose for your characters?
Happy Reading. Happier Writing-Names.


Dominic de Mattos said...

Hi Jodi!

You have no idea how heartened I am to read "As Authors, we spend countless hours ... finding names for our characters." I find choosing names to be hair-tearing out difficult. This is multiplied exponentially for a fantasy setting where there might be hundreds of names to dream up!
I recently came up with an idea. I dashed off a page of names, stringing any old syllables together, then I gave it to my daughter and asked her to decide on their gender, their occupation and their character - all suggested from the sound the name conjured up in her mind. Now I have a little store of minor characters at least. If only I could settle on the MC!

Jen Daiker said...

I am given the main characters name before I start the story, but the others leave me confused and frustrated. I love names, researching them, testing them out, hating them, loving them, and then all over again.

What's fantastic is that when you finally find the name it's like finishing that very first draft. You know it's right.

Christopher S. Ledbetter said...

So far my stories have all been set in Ancient Greece, so I pore over ancient Greek names. 99% of my characters' names have something to do with their physical characteristics, where they are from, or something they do well.

Nice post.

Melissa said...

I didn't name any of my main characters. I didn't. I named all the side characters though!

Samantha VĂ©rant said...

Names are REALLY important, to me, at least. They help define the character. Of course, I'm writing a memoir now. It's probably a good thing I've always liked my name.

Quinn said...

Coming up with characters' names is my favorite part. It is such an important part of my process. I can't even start writing until I figure out my characters' names.

There's only been one time I've named a character after a real life person. I named my MC's friend after a student of mine because he kinda became my friend and pushed me to write the book. I also based the character's looks off of this boy.

I wouldn't name a character after someone I hated and wanted to see punished or anything. I just ... those people aren't worth immortalizing. Sure I'd be killing or torturing them or something, but I don't want to give anyone the satisfaction of knowing they got to me that much that I had to put them in my book.

I too like unique names. I don't go too crazy because I don't want to be distracting, but I like names that are different and special.

By the way, I like Morana and what the name means.

Terry Stonecrop said...

Coming up with character names is so much fun.

My MC's name, Gardner West, came from two sources. Gardner, a college roomate of my husband. And West, a summer boyfriend. I like both men and both names and they sounded New England enough without being New England cliche.

Fun post! Love the Aleaktra story:)

Ax said...

I have to have a name most of the time before I can even put the character on the page. It gives me a sense of who they are, where they're from, and what they're like. I have a collection of baby books (be careful to hide else they freak the boyfriend out) and online sources that I use, usually making notes in the meantime about the character, scraps of history, hair color, former lovers, that kind of thing. I've always found it like an archeological dig, hot, stinky, dusty, and yet you might uncover gold.

Donna Hole said...

I hate naming my characters. If it doesn't just shout out at me, I have a hard time.

But I'm with you on stealing unique names from real people I meet. Oh yes, name tags are so cool! I have had to research a few names here and there; honestly, I get lost in the research. I like reading for the sake of reading, knowing just because. Trivia sucks me in every time.

I read your chapt 9 excerpt. Wow. Is that a dream? Or some mystical meeting? I'm intrigued. And you used the clerks name! Fantastic.