Friday, 13 March 2015

What’s in a Name?

Readers have picked up on my love for unusual names. I undertake serious contemplation regarding the names of my main characters, mulling over possibilities for weeks, sometimes months.

I like using unusual names in my writing, because in my life I find they are far more memorable than standard, everyday names. It is also important to me because most people will not know a person called Bay, Navy or Anika. As a writer, the disassociation with the real world allows me to fully create a unique individual without real-life idiosyncrasies to get in the way. I love that my readers have this same freedom.

I have to admit that coming up with new and interesting names is sometimes difficult. Pouring through baby name sites is a tedious task, and one you can only do for so long before complete overload sets in. I have been blessed to have a very creative friend, who I have ‘stolen’ names from for past characters. I have used two on the top of her list, and she has been happy to pass them on to me.

My current work in progress will be no disappointment to those who love my unusual character names. As I am in the editing process, and contemplating changing some names of my minor characters, I wondered today how other writers come up with their names. Are there those who, like me, don’t want a name of a person they have known because of the unavoidable association? How do you choose the names for your characters? 

Visit Rose Dee at: http://rosedee.com/

28 comments:

  1. Character names are important to readers, in setting initially who the character is in their mind as well as providing depth to the story/novel. Creative ones add all the more color.

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    1. I think so too, Terry. As a reader I always remember unusual character names.

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  2. Interesting post, Rose. I must admit I have the opposite problem. Because I use real names of my ancestors for my historical novels I keep coming up against the same name - which seemed to be a common practice in families. So I have to find variations of the same name so as not to confuse readers - William, Bill, Will etc. Sometimes I give up and use a second name if they had one but they're often just as common. It would be fun to freely imagine new names. And I do like your choices because they stick in the mind and help the reader to keep track of each character easily. All the best with the new novel.

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    1. Yes, those pesky ancestors felt it was important to honour their forebears by repeating names, which did get a little awkward ... I feel the pain. I spent hours trying to work out which John Jones my great-grandmother married.

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    2. That would be so confusing. Makes me relieved that I can let my creativity decide. An added advantage of writing contemporary I think. These days the general public are accustomed to hearing unusual names.

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  3. I never use names of anyone I know well and often consult a baby book. When I hear or read and unusual name I copy it down in my own baby name book. It has some unusual ones in it. I like the idea of nicknames too.

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    1. I pour though baby name sites too, Dale. Sometimes they are very helpful.

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  4. As I mostly write fantasy set in a completely different world, using everyday names would seem weird and I end up inventing a lot of my names or using more unusual ones or variations of unusual ones. I usually model the names after a certain pattern or base it on another language. The challenge is to have them fit the setting without being too difficult that the reader constantly stumbles on them.

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    1. I love the name, Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy. I don't know any of the other characters, but I think she stuck in my mind because she is the only female character. It would be fun to have so much creative freedom, but then it would be no easy task to adapt a name from another language.

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  5. It's an interesting point Rose. It's great to come up with unusual names, but it has to fit the era and general feel of the book. For example, a funny name would work well in a humorous piece, but not in a drama. I think it's also important not to have names that are too similar. I once read a book with two characters called Alison and Amanda - one was a goodie and one was a baddie - but it was easy to get them confused since they both had six-letter names starting with A. I think surnames are equally important. I google if I need a surname of a particular nationality or era. It's a great way of finding things you might not have thought of. Thanks for sharing :)

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    1. I agree, Nola. Similar sounding names should be avoided at all costs. It's totally confusing, and takes away from the enjoyment of the story.
      Being a contemporary writer makes things a lot easier for me. :-)

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  6. Good post, Rose. Like Jeannette, having supernatural beings in my novels gives me lots of opportunity to find new names, but I try to find ones that are easy to pronounce. I find novels where names are too awkward or difficult to pronounce, distracting. I'll tend to side-step the name when it comes up.

    Yes, names add to the "colour" of our characters (to borrow from Terry) but I find it's generally everything else that will make them memorable or not.

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    1. I read one novel where the names were so unusual, my ereader couldn't interpret the special characters, so they all appeared as a row of little boxes. Confusing to the point of being unreadable.

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    2. Yes, if they are impossible to interpret, what's the point? If I'm reading a book and stumbling over a name, I'll often just make up one of my own to replace that character with.

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  7. Hah! Well there's a mine of names in movie credits which I often study. But I won't grab one unless they really click with me. Writing in the Victorian Era could be limiting, but so far I've been fortunate enough to have my characters comply with their names. Except for one. I used Olympia, ( they seemed to favour Classical names ) but shortened to Olly was enough to make my editor baulk. She had an uncle by that name. So she became Olivia, shortened to Livvy and she was happier.( Both the character & editor!)

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    1. I love Livvy, that would probably be considered a little unusual for the era. I never thought of movie credits, but that's a great idea - must pay more attention in the future.

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  8. I agree, Rose, that it's important to spend time getting just the right name for the characters in our novels. I try not to use the names of people I know for the main characters, but sometimes have fun sprinkling the names of my friends around the minor characters--as long as these characters are 'nice' and behave themselves!

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    1. I do that too, Jo-Anne. I've named 2 minor characters after beautiful, nurturing women in my life - just to say thank you to them for loving me so well. :-)

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  9. Hi Rose,
    I love your unusual character names. They can make a novel more memorable too, rather than having characters blend into all the other Johns and Marys. I enjoy mulling over names too, and it usually comes first, before I've even consolidated plots and characters in my head. For contemporary fiction authors, the sky is the limit when it comes to this. We don't need to worry about whether names would have been invented yet or in vogue at the time. It's quite handy to live in an era when absolutely anything goes.

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    1. It does give us a lot more freedom. I think we can thank the celebrities for the general public's acceptance of the unusual. I noticed quite a few newborn celeb babies have traditional names - maybe that going against the grain these days.

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  10. Rose, great post! My process for naming characters is mystical - the right name will somehow come to me before I start writing. Once the characters are named, I'm very reluctant to change their names. I try to have different sounding names for each character, especially the hero and heroine.

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    1. I can't stand having to change a main character's name. I had to do it for one of my novels and unless it's drastically necessary, I'll never do it again because I still think of that character as the first name.

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  11. One comment on unusual names make sure early one you somehow find way to pronounce it. I have read a few books and struggled the whole book to work out how on earth to pronounce it. Then another book where the series was about German settlers and issues with English and German tensions. The main character had a German name and the author found a way to pronounce it by telling the hero who said it wrong its and put in the sounds like Jen - E. It made it so much easier.

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    1. That is something I've put into my latest story, Jenny - an early pronunciation and explanation. As a reader, I like to know how the character's name sound, otherwise it's confusing and irritating.

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  12. My apologies for getting back to you all late. I'm out at our bush camp and the mobile service is very unreliable. Please forgive any double - ups or errors. Xo Rose.

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  13. First, it must be said, I'm a reader, not a writer- though I hope to turn my hand to writing someday. Without meaning to go against the grain, I do have an issue with some choices of character names in Historical Fiction, that just don't seem to 'fit' the time period, or have any particular rhyme nor reason behind them, and are simply made up or used because they sound nice.

    One example was a historical novel set in sixteenth century England in which the male protagonist was a Duke named 'Bracken'. To me, it was totally implausible and far-fetched name for such a character- why would a Duke name his son after a common, fern like plant found in woodland?
    Or another story which I read the synopsis for, was meant to be a Robin Hood related tale set it twelfth century England- but the protagonists were called Dusty and Mari-Lu - which I'm sorry to say are not 12th century English names- they're modern American names.

    Now I have no issue with made up- names in fantasy (or even hist fic if they fit). I really think J.R.R. Tolkien did a good job in choosing names. It seems he knew several historical languages (Old Norse, Anglo-Saxon, Finnish etc....), and drew on them to name his characters- whose names apparently often fit some characteristic or attribute.

    Of course, most of us aren't linguists like him- but I do like the idea of character names that have some deeper meaning or significance. It seems in past cultures, people sometimes were named according to characteristics. Late Medieval European naming patterns can be confusing however, for being so repetitive. You could have three Henrys in one family....or two Johns in the same generation....

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  14. I instantly relate the names Dusty and Mari-Lu with a cowboy and cowgirl, so to put them in a Robin Hood retell makes me giggle.
    As a contemporary author, it's a lot easier for me to be creative with names. It is certainly true that historical authors have a much more difficult task. If an author gets too carried away, I can imagine they could end up with something that doesn't work and takes away from the story.

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  15. I have found many variety of names in Babynology.com, Where it has, color names, musical names, bad/weird names etc.

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