Monday, May 18, 2009

The Name Game



I used to think I put a lot of thought into my character’s names. After all, I love unusual ones and can lose a lot of time pouring over a baby book looking up the meanings. They have to make sense to me and fit the personality of the characters I’m matching them with.

But recently I’ve noticed a big problem with repeating characters names, especially with my heroine and secondary female characters. I’ve been revising old versions of stories, coupled with new versions of newer stories and discovered a fondness for certain ones.

The biggest problem: Christina, Crista, and Christa

Christina is the heroine in my current single title. For some reason, I then named the heroine of my newest category book Crista (the short and sassy version of Christina). When I went back to revise an older book, I found the heroine’s best friend’s name was Christa. Besides being confusing, in and of itself, I can’t seem to remember how I spelled it in each story. Is it spelled with an H here or not? Hmmm… I’ll have to look back and see. Oh, bother.

Secondary Characters: Jean, Jean Anne, and Jennette

I’m not really sure how this problem came about. I wouldn’t normally say that any of these names would be ones I was drawn too, but apparently it has become my place holder for secondary female characters. In 3 different stories, these have been a boss, housekeeper, and oldest sister for the hero. Yikes! Need to spread my boundaries here.

Additional problems: Stephanie and Kenzie

When I started trying to rename characters from my first book, my heroine was a girl-next-door type, so I named her Stephanie. That sounded all American, right? In a completely separate decision, I renamed her best friend Kenzie, simply because she’s a little firecracker, and that seemed to fit her. Yeah. Until I got them in a conversation together. Then all those –ie sounds started getting on my nerves. So I changed Stephanie to something completely different: Serena. A move my sister thanked me profusely for after reading for me. :)

So even though I thought myself to be a name aficionado, review of my previous choices has proved this not to be so. I’m definitely going to have to work harder at this in the future. So tell me, any favorite names? Any particular characters with names you’ve loved? Ever find yourself stuck in a rut when naming characters? Let’s play the name game today.

Angel

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18 comments:

Christine said...

Personally, I love the name Christine *wink*. But I have a weird trend going over here with names that's about coincidences. I told my new CP in VA my character names and she had the same names for her hero/heroine (we did this independently). My hero's name is Alexander Brandon and my daughter's first boyfriend (*sigh* so cute to see her *in love* for the first time) is ALEX BENNET. Weird eh?

My father's middle name is Alexander as is my brother's middle name. I didn't come up with the name that way.

Problem Child said...

I have problems with secondary or really minor characters -- seems I lack creativity there, as I'm afraid there are some repeats.

I've started a spreadsheet to compensate. :-)

I'm bad about having names that either have the same interior or final sounds -- Victor, Derrick, Jack -- but because they look different on the page I never noticed.

I'm also bad about giving two characters names that either start with the same letter or on first glance look similar, which makes conversations between them very difficult to read...

Smarty Pants said...

I'm bad about overusing a letter. The hero will be Ethan and the heroine's friend is Emma and this throwaway character that doesn't really matter is named Eddie. I do that a lot. I should start a spreadsheet.

I really should make more effort to come up with good names for my secondary people. You never know when they'll get their own book and you're stuck with a hero named Ernie.

Jean said...

Stephanie and I have been writing fantasy and I've spent a lot of time pouring over and inventing names. I just don't see Tom and Susie in the world we've created so I've come up with things like Farron, Tylden, Dariana, Taryan, and Ambree.

However, recently a story came to us like a bolt out of the blue with no magic, no monsters, set in the here and the now. The story was shouting so loudly that we didn't have time for names. I hastily named the hero and heroine Brantley and Lucy and an important secondary character Missy, thinking I'd change them later. Trouble is, when I started to change them, it didn't work out. They said, "Do you want us on the FBI list of people with aliases? That might mess with the story line just a tad. Last we checked, you weren't writing a suspense. We are willing to work with you here but not if you change our names.

So there it is.

M.V.Freeman said...

LOL! My secondary characters are the problem ones. There are a lot of Johns, Davids, etc.

I like the idea of a spread sheet PC, that's a great idea!

My problem is, I'll start out with a name for my main character and end up with something completely different, like my current WIP, LORE was the name, which I changed to Laurie.

Ok...back to writing.

Maven Linda said...

I have more baby name books than you can imagine. Also have the Character Name Sourcebook. Another great place to look is the Census Bureau website, which gives you the most popular names for each year. So if your hero was born in 1978, you know what the hot names were.

Uh . . . Jean? I have a nephew named Farron :-). Spelled that way, too.

I keep a list of all the character names in each book, so they don't all start with J. My favorite male name forever is John. My favorite female names are Jane and Sarah. Guess I'm just an old-fashioned type. But I really have to watch out for J names, or the books would be over-populated with them.

Sometimes the characters name themselves names I don't like, but that's good, because that means they're fully formed people and they tend to take the story and run with it.

Playground Monitor said...

I tend to name all my heroes Jack. I must stop doing that.

www.thinkbabynames.com is a good source. They also list names by popularity for each decade. So if you have an aunt who was born in the 1940s, you can find an appropriate name.

SP mentioned the secondary character named Ernie who ends up with his own book. That happneed to a Desire writer I know. She had a secondary character named Toby and he ended up with his own book but her editor thought Toby wasn't a very Desire-like name. So that became the nickname for Tobias, which was also his grandfather's name. Or something like that. ::grin::

Smarty Pants said...

That's funny, Marilyn. I had to go back and give a secondary character in my last book a wife because I didn't want Sargeant Pepper showing up in a later book as the hero.

Ah, just remembered the other thing I do - names that end in S. I don't want to use them, I can never quite figure out what their possessive should be, but every time I have a Lucas or something that makes me worry if its Lucas' or Lucas's. Lucususes.

My grammar and spellchecker had fits with Isabelle's nickname Legs. "Legs's gaze bored into me..." Or worse, Legs's legs doing something. Why do I do this to myself?

Angel said...

I've noticed several author's tendency to give their characters nicknames (um, SP and PC), and though it is fine for them, I am vehemently opposed to using nicknames. There are enough names in the book, I don't want to have to remember 2 for the same character.

Plus, this never occurs to me. Why would I want to give someone a nickname? I wouldn't. So I never think about it. Hmm...

See, Jean, I love the names you've picked out. Most of them just don't fit very well in contemporary series. In the contemporary single title I'm working on, I have 3 brothers. I named one of them Thadeus, Thad for short. I knew he would have his own book later. Recently, I wrote a scene for the current book with him in it and HATED using that name. It doesn't sound right at all. Sigh... back to the drawing board.

Angel

Playground Monitor said...

Oh but when a heroine's name ends in "s" the hero can hiss her name. "Legs," he hissed between clenched teeth as Leg's legs wrapped around his waist. See? :-)

Smarty Pants said...

Yes, but do Leg's legs wrap around his waist, or Legs's legs? Or Legs' legs?

Why do you think James Bennett went by his last name? My way of avoiding this issue again.

And I've only had one character with an outright nickname. Right? Just Legs? I might call a Miranda, Randi, or Cassandra, Cassie for short, but I think that's my only nickname. And honestly, I didn't mean to. It was Ethan's idea. He opened his mouth and that's just what came out. I never would've deliberately done that to myself.

And I blame my characters for a lot of this. I don't really even care for a lot of the character's names, but they choose their own. Miranda, Cassie, Sarabeth, Nellie... never would pick those on my own. I work more on the hero's names.

Problem Child said...

I tend to shorten people's names -- mainly because I'm lazy. It rolls over to my characters. :-)

And it also varies -- a character named Elizabeth might be called Liz by one character and Beth by another. I know, it's sick (and, now according to Angel, irritating...)

Problem Child said...

SP -- Legs's legs. If you'd like a complete explanation as to why, see me after class...

Smarty Pants said...

Man, I could swear in school they taught us that if it ended in S to put it at the end with no additional S - Lucas' instead of Lucas's. Oh well. Thanks, PC, for the impromptu grammar lesson. Now, of course, that I know the right way, I will stop using names that end in S.

I like giving my female characters big flowy names with short nick names. It gives them a soft feminine side and a spunky side.

Jean said...

As to nicknames--I have friend who was called "Heartbreaker Soulshaker" in college. Isn't that great? A mouthful, but great. Not only is she pretty, she's one of those who has a little something that most people don't.

Linda--as to the name Farron. It was a little joke to myself. My Farron casts spells using music. He's kind of a rock star. I like country music and I guess that's why I thought of Farron Young--though I can't tell you any of his songs.

Instigator said...

My name problem is that I'm picky :-) And until I get them right in my head it messes with the creative side of my brain. I'm going through that with a title right now. I don't like anything I've got. I know in the end it really won't matter because it will probably change but in the meantime I think I've changed it 4 or 5 times...I'm certain my editor would appreciate it if I'd stop that.

Oh, and I have a book in the works with twin brothers - Alex and Adam. I was told that was too similar by certain people that will remain nameless and so now I'm changing them. I didn't have a problem until they pointed it out and now it's bugging the crap out of me. They will have initials - DJ and JD with a James Dean theme :-)

Kira

Kathy said...

Instigator, I don't see much of a problem with that. Parents do name their twins with similiar names. Any reader should find this believable. Take Kathleen Woodiwiss' book, Come Love a Stranger. In it, she had twins, Lenore and Lierin.

Maven Linda gave some good ideas for places to find names. Also, check out the obituaries in your local newspaper or in census books. You'll find some really great names there. ;) PM also has a great site you can use that will put names together for you. LOVE it!!

Names are sacred. Characters come with names when I imagine them. Rarely do I ever have a problem naming my characters. I did have to rename several characters in a book once and the whole process was unsettling. How do you get used to calling the characters that are dear to you by another name? Arrr!

Nicknames are cool. In historicals you can pick out some really neat ones and I think those nicknames apply today as well. People are people no matter where they live, the era they exist. ;D

word verif: ovensta
(Is this a nickname for deadly oven master?)

Angel said...

LOL, Kathy!

I think my problem with nicknames is that I have trouble remembering people's names in general. Give them a nickname I have to remember too, and I'm sunk.

There's a fairly popular paranormal writer whose books I used to enjoy. The problem was, at the end of each book she brought back ALL the characters from the previous installments. I couldn't keep them straight after book 4. I was simply lost, so I stopped reading. :(

Angel