Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Name Game

I know I'm hardly the first person to blog about choosing names for characters in a book, but lately this topic has been high in my mind. I have a hero who has undergone several rounds on the name treadmill, and it's struck me how bizarre naming fictional people can be.

Sometimes a character's name comes to me instantly, almost the same moment the character him- or herself arrives on my doorstep. It's a no brainer - they just are who they are. Other times I'll have a guy or a girl who just refuses to be named. Nothing sticks. Anything I come up with is either too trite, too boring, or has too many stereotypes tied to the name.

It's at those times I whip out my handy-dandy baby naming book (I use a very good one, A World of Baby Names, that has names from 31 different nationalities and cultures). My problem is that so many of my characters end up with names that start with A, B, or C because I work my way front to back. I need to just open a page and go with whatever I find there. I usually don't pay attention to the meaning of the name unless, of course, it so happens to perfectly fit my character.

I notice that writers seem to swing in one of two directions. There are those who stick with the clearly roguish for heroes and extremely exotic for heroines. The Raffes, Tristans, and Wesleys paired with the Esmeraldas, Rowenas, and Andriannas. Then there are those writers who seem to actively try to be ordinary when naming charactes. Mikes, Nicks, Lous find love with Sarahs, Kates and Kellys. One of my favorite ordinary named characters can be found in Suzanne Brockmann's Over the Edge in the form of hero Senior Chief Stanley Wolchonok. His name actually served a great purpose, because the man SB described was far from glamorous and movie-star handsome. Neither is the name Stan. It was an easy connect to make because when I saw the name, I could clearly imagine the kind of guy who I think would have it.

I tend to fall in the middle of the naming spectrum. I like names that are unusual, but I don't want to be so out there that the reader is constantly reminded that they are reading fiction. I mean, how many guys do you really know named Wolf? Or women named Anastasia? Sadly, most of my favorite hero names are also the favorite hero names of a lot of other writers. My own son is named Jake because I love the name so much, but do you have any idea how many Jakes there are on the romance novel shelves? Gads!

My other concern when coming up with names is how true I can be to original spellings. I have a book started that is set in mid-eighteenth century Scotland, and I'd love to use the Gaelic spellings for the names I've chosen. However, is it worth giving some readers who don't appreciate such authenticity a reason to put down my book simply because I like Ealasaid better than Elizabeth? I know that when I can't mentally pronounce a character's name, I always think to myself "That E girl" whenever I come across it in the story. Surely that has to add to the distance between me and my involvement with the characters? That I wouldn't even be able to pronounce their names if I actually met them in person?

Today I found the perfect name for my recent un-named hero in one of the most unlikely of places - real life. I won't go into details to protect the innocent, and I did alter the last name quite extensively. But even so, I do have a tiny fear that this person (a man) will some day happen to pick up my tiny little romance novel (not likely on multiple levels) and gasp with a "Hey! That guy has my name!" Even so, I'll take the chance because finally, finally I've found a name that really works for both me and my hero. It starts with an A (coincidence) but can be shortened to a non-A nickname, which I plan to do anyway.

Nice thing about naming fictional characters is that they can never complain to you about your choice. I suppose if they really hated the name, they could complain about it via the story. But unlike real live children, they'll never try to make everyone call them "Silver" simply because they don't like the name you've sweated over. Don't ask. It was a long, long...long time ago.


Wendy said...

Lynn, you and I might be a sharing brain. I blogged about the name game yesterday, too. Too funny.

On another note, would you like to 'borrow' that ebook and see for yourself?

Wendy said...

That was to be 'sharing a brain' and clearly I'm not in possession of it today.

Lynn M said...

Yeah, Wendy, I LOL when I saw you were in the same naming dilemma. Honestly, it must be a universal problem, which makes me feel better about it. :)

About that e-book - do you think I'd like the book? I mean, I know you don't know my tastes, but what did you honestly think about it? If you liked it, chances are I would, too. But if it was simpley meh, then I'd probably think the same. Let me know - maybe an excerpt is the way to go. I can usually tell by the end of the first chapter if I think I'll like something.

Thanks for the offer :))