Thursday, March 19, 2009

Meet the Propers

This is the family that lives with mine, and they like to whisper names into my ear while I am writing.

First names

Last names

Names of places

And sometimes if they are feeling very eccentric, they will give me a made-up name. (They have visited others and credit themselves entirely for the naming of Hogwarts and Narnia.)

But seriously, how do you select a name?

I have spent a lot of time on baby name websites in the past, scrolling through decade appropriate names before landing on the perfect name. On the other hand, I have also had the name just come to me as soon as the concept for the novel is created, and once she's named, she can't be unnamed...even if I don't like the name.

Sometimes the Propers are very poor guests, and after a character is named, they huff and say, "Jane? You called her JANE?? Who's going to believe that!?" (None of my characters are really called Jane...yet.) Can a name be unbelievable? Maybe too trendy? Too contrived??

What about places? I have trouble writing my main character in Kansas City. It's too real for me to play make-believe in. Do you write your main character in the city you know best? Or do you place her in a city you would like to know best? What about made-up names for cities? That way, no one can say, "I am from there, and that is NOT what it's like."

And made-up words. I mean, if they are good, they are GOOD. Muggles didn't exist before J.K. Rowling invented them (with the musing help of above family), and now they will never be forgotten. But, if they are bad then they are just laughable. And discredit the believability of your book.

Juliet wants to know what is in a name? A LOT.

But I think Lucy Maud's Anne says it best:

"I read a book once that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I've never been able to believe it. I don't believe a rose would be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage."

Who wants a dozen thistles for Valentine's day?


  1. In regards to your last post, very cool idea for your window. My nephew was actually staying with me the day you posted that and found a black sharpie in the guest bedroom closet. The whole time I though he was sleeping, he was coloring himself and the closet door. I about died when his mother came to get him!

    The Propers have been to my house too. I often find their best advice comes in the from of phonetically spelled Gaelic words. Names are hard for me, but I start with words that describe my characters and then translate them into other languages and then modify the word until it works. Most of the time I'm really happy with the result. Occasionally, the propers give me terrible advice. Like the time they told me to name one of my bad guys... I'm almost too embarrassed to say... Jarlath. Fortunately, I have siblings who are only to eager to set me straight and laugh their heads off when I get a name wrong.

  2. *starts to creep away because she named her main character Jane*

    Oh . . . hi.

    Well, since I'm here, I'll throw in my two cents. And that is that I struggle with names as well. And I mean STRUGGLE.

    Take this for example. In my current story, one of the main love interest guys is named Owen. At first, I loved the name, but lately The Propers come to me and say "Owen? That sounds like an old man's name!"

    (Does it? Seriously, I'm asking. Does it?)

    And made up names are even worse. My very first novel was epic fantasy. I had to make up names for like ten different things. Some came to me right away. Others, I struggled with and changed a hundred times.

    So . . . in other words, I have no advice. I'll just say, I feel you, sister.

  3. Yeah, I have no advice either. My current book is all about names too. Their names and meanings are a huge part of the world. Just lots and lots of searching. And when it doesn't come to me right away it becomes 'X' in the book until it does. That's just for side characters though because my main characters have to have names or I can't write them. (just a personal quirk)

  4. Candice-I like your method of finding names. And yes, those infuriating Propers. Jarlath...I mean, the nerve. Was he one of those bad guys you love to hate?

    A Sharpie?? I'll have to remember to keep those away from my son.

    Renee-Okay, I did't actually name a character Jane, but I still cannot stop loving Jane. Even though Jane is so...Jane.

    I like Owen. I tend to gravitate toward "vowel" names for guys: Ian, Aiden, Evan, Ethan, Oliver, Ulgath (just kidding). So, I think Owen could be made into something very romantic.

    Kasie-I've used fillers for names, too. Not 'X' but any other random letter my brain lands on. Did you see Nanny Diaries? Mrs. X? And you are so right about having a name for the main character before you can write the main character. Just like in real life. Would our mothers think about sending us out into this world nameless?!

  5. LOL! I'm a crazy fiend for names and titles... I can't do anything without them! And i'm really into names not sounding too much like the other names or being to similiar in spelling... you know, that sort of thing.

    I second Jessie on Owen Renee! Super cute name.

    Also, I have 6 kids... they each have middle names... wala... 12 perfectly perfect names that I LOVE that I can use for my books! Wahooo! Of course, I write modern, but still... LOL!

  6. Jenni-Yes, I'm with you on names not sounding too much like other names in a book. And even keeping names from starting with the same letter, unless it's a very minor character. Otherwise, it is just too confusing.

  7. Names kinda just come to me. Sometimes I don't like them at all, but they just fit that character. My current MC is Danie(lle)...never liked that name. But it's sooo her. And her love interest is Troy...also not a favorite (okay, now it is).

    When it comes to naming things and places, I think/search for the most "logical" word. People don't name things randomly. They name them for people or what they are used for—something about that thing/person's identity. Places are usually named for their founders, a religious group, the major industry, or a landmark in the area.

    For example, in one of my books I use wizards and magic and all that. They call people without magic "Voids," ya know, void of magic. Heh. (Also ended up being the name of the book.) In another book about the undead, they call the living "quickens," "quick" being an archaic word for alive. Made up a fake school in one book that takes place in San Fran—heavy Victorian influences in the area; I used a fancy last name and it became "Greenburg Academy." So yeah—simple, logical route is usually best.

  8. That is great advice for a book with a lot of characters. And as for the two characters with the same first letters. Don't feel too bad. I knew a girl who didn't realize, until someone mentioned it at her baby shower, that the name she was giving her unborn child was almost identical to that of her first.

    I like the phone book method. I usually toss my phone books because I use the internet, but I'll have to hold onto it next time.