Thursday, March 19, 2009

Don't call me that!

Elana J. wrote about hero names in novels on her Mindless Musings blog today. (I highly recommend a visit.)

The post started spinning the wheels of wonder in my head about character names and how writers choose them.

My character's names just come to me, and once they're there they generally stick.

I've only changed a couple in Long Road. Josh's wife, Patty, used to be Alexandra, but I changed it because it felt too upper class for a simple farmer's wife. I also changed Dave's last name to reflect his Italian ethnicity.

In search of good names for characters, I've perused baby-name books and looked up popular names during the era on the Internet, but the good ones I find I rarely use. Rather, I put them in a list of names I think have . . . well, character and use them when that character pops up.

But I wonder what other writers do. And I wonder how great literary authors came up with names for their characters.

I mean, how did Lucy Maud Montgomery come up with Anne Shirley? Why not Mary or Penelope Shirley?

Granted, Penelope of Green Gables doesn't exactly have quite the same panache.

I don't think Margaret Mitchell's "Gone with the Wind" would have been the same if Scarlett O'Hara would have been Suzie O'Connor.

And I dare say that The Adventures of Joe Brown doesn't have the same pleasant ring as Huckleberry Finn.

How do you choose your character's names?


Anonymous said...

I love that nametag. HA! Great stuff.

I figure out the year the character was born, go to popular names of that year and chose. I piece together from the first name and last name database.

For my project, Guardian, I went more into what's a the name for Light or Dark in another I didn't have the last names of White and Black. You know, for the good and bad characters....And they are 300 and 400 years old, that was fun.

Names are interesting....I hope to hear how more people come up with them. I'm always intrigued by it. :-)

Anonymous said...

What a great question...for me the names either just come to me (literally - like while wtching TV, or hearing a particular peice of music, or I research names. When I needed a name for an evit guy in my WIP, I literally looked up names that meant evil one until I found THE name for the character. I tend to like easy names, so this comes into play as well.

Great post Kat!!!

Rosslyn Elliott said...

That's funny--my daughter and I were just making up a story about a vain girl. She asked: "What's a vain girl name?"

I pondered. "Frou Frou."

She frowned. "That's not a vain name, that's a weird name."

"OK, then what's a vain name?"


Who knows where we get these ideas about names?

gzusfreek said...

Well, I write fantasy. Some come to me, but I use many "word mixer" and "fantasy name generator" web sites.
I think coming up with names is so fun. I use some "baby name" sites. For the cities in my future world I have looked up words that definitions resemble some characteristic of the city. The name is so "out there" when you read it, but look up the meaning of the words and it may be something simple like: Big City or Mighty One.
This is fun Kat. Can't wait to see what everyone says.

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

It's funny you mention Anne of Green Gables, since I just recently reread that (it was a childhood favorite of mine) and the fact that she insists on being called Anne with an E is a very big part of her character.

I find names by paging through baby books, or sometimes they just come to me. Last names are really horrible for me though, I'll usually switch them several times throughout a novel - sometimes just because I can't remember which one I used earlier!

T. Anne said...

I love naming my characters! It's the only fun I get at the beginning of a novel. I use the internet and an old baby naming book I have lying around. Sometimes they just pop into my mind.

gzusfreek said...

I just have to say I love: My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepared to die!!!!

That is the funniest thing about that movie :)

ElanaJ said...

This is the question I should have asked! Le sigh. This is great. Um...for my dystopian novel, I watched American Gladiators and wrote down every weird name I could think of. My male MC in that book is named Jag. That didn't come from AG, but it's not really a normal name. In the sequel, I did use names from American Gladiators.

I stole a name from my nephew. Xan. Short for Alexander. Love it. Very futuristic, right?

All the others I choose because they just seem to fit. Or I want to call them something else. Like Jon instead of Jonathan.

Oh! And I named my female MC Gabriella (who goes by Gabby) so she could pretend to be a boy, Gabe.

And one more thing: I teach elementary school and I have access to hundreds and hundreds of names. I jot down ones I like (usually based on the child) and match them up with other last names that are interesting. I'm a thief like that. ;)

ElanaJ said...

Oh, I wanted to look up my futuristic names. Gill, Nash, Viggo, Fret. Nice, right? Yeah, they're Jag's friends.