A Rose, by Any Other Name. Or Jane? Maybe Tiffany.
As I’ve been touching up my current WIP it occurred to me that the names of a couple of characters were combinations of past pets and close friends. It wasn’t a conscious pattern, it just worked out that way because I liked the way the names sound when I say them out loud. Tell me, my fellow Miss Demeanors? How do you come up with character names? Michele: Sometimes when I read a book, it strikes me that a character’s name seems off. A thirty-year-old woman is unlikely to be names Linda. I go online to the year of the character’s birth and peruse the first twenty-five names. From there, I look at where the story is located, what’s the heritage of the character’s family, etc., and take it from there. I also try very hard not to duplicate the first initial of the name of any character because I’ve read it’s confusing to readers and tend to agree. Robin: Good point, Michele! I also look out for similarities in syllables. Real people around me have as few as one syllable and as many as 3 in their names. I try to mimic that real-world asymmetrical pattern in my cast of characters. Susan: I torture myself over names. If a name’s not right, I can’t more forward and so I spend a lot of time looking through baby names and so forth. I think my favorite character name was Arabella Hicks, who was the protagonist of The Fiction Class. I imagined her mother to be a fan of Georgette Heyer and inspired by one of Heyer’s best heroines. But for my protagonist, Arabella, the name was a nightmare. She was not a romance novel sort of person and would much rather have been named Jane. I liked the idea that the conflict between Arabella and her mother went back to the moment of her birth, and had to do with their two differing ways of seeing the world. And I got all that from her name. Tracee: Susan, I also loved your main character’s name in The Fiction Class! Names are critical. I often use a placeholder (particularly for minor characters) in a draft. A name that I ‘like’ but I know isn’t exactly right. With my books set in Switzerland I also run the names by my Swiss husband. I may think a name sounds right, and have done the research about names of a certain era, etc. but my husband has a local different ear. He will first quiz me about the character’s parents, and education, and place of birth (city or region), religion, and then be ready to discuss. I should confess that I once named a minor character in a book (first name) after a friend who was the inspiration for the character’s physical description. The name was so perfect that I forgot it was her real name and left it in that way. No harm done, but I only realized this in the middle of a publish talk when the question of names came up, and how closely characters are based on people I know. Alison: I’m a huge fan of the social security website. I use it a lot for background characters. Because my books take place in Utah and the larger LDS community, I love using names from Mormon history and scripture. Detective Abish Taylor, my protagonist, got her first name because Abish is one of only a handful of women who are referred to by name in the Book of Mormon. I wanted her to have deep Mormon roots, so she’s also a direct descendent of the third President of the Church, John Taylor. One of my favorite characters (and all around delightfully bad guy) has a secret nickname based on Orrin Porter Rockwell, who was a private body guard to both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. A famous–perhaps apocryphal–story about Rockwell has the sharp shooter defending himself on charges of trying to assassinate the former governor of Missouri by pointing out to the court that he, Rockwell, “never shot at anybody, if I shoot they get shot!” Alexia: I often use street signs/place names. I use baby name websites most commonly. Once in a while I use names of people I know. I’ve auctioned off a character naming opportunity once. Sometimes a movie inspires me. Gethsemane Brown is an homage to Cleopatra Jones. Occasionally, a name will pop into my head out of nowhere. You reminded me, Michele, I also use the Census archives to find names that were popular during certain eras. Cate: I use baby name finder to find names with etymologies that evoke the character. I also use the census to find names that were popular during certain times or for certain ethnic groups. I also tend to change my names. I start off with one and then decide, during the course of writing, that the character is really more like someone else. How about you, dear reader? How do you go about naming your characters?