Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Ask the Authors: Wednesday

Do you have a special process for naming your characters?

Sometimes the characters walk into my imagination with names and history (i.e. Roxy Burke in Return to Me, coming in July 2007). Other times I have a story idea with unnamed characters. When that happens, I pull out baby name books and other tools and just start browsing. Something inside "tells me" when I hit on the right name. Secondary characters get less attention. For each book, I keep names in a spreadsheet that sorts by first and last names. I try to avoid naming characters that start with the same letter so the alphabet helps me name secondary characters. -Robin Lee Hatcher

Most of my female protagonists have a name that's a plant or a flower, denoting growth. Or their name will fit either what they do, or their journey. Sometimes it's downright silly. In Straight Up, I named a character who hadn't yet come to faith Fairly Godfrey--Fairly God Free. (Sometimes I just crack myself up!) -lisa samson

For main characters I usually choose fairly common “everyman” names, and I’ve been known to change the character’s surname, especially, midway through the writing because the original somehow didn’t fit the character that ultimately developed. For characters who only appear briefly, I often turn to the morning newspaper and choose a first name from one article and a surname from another. The obituary or business pages offer a wealth of names to choose from. -Deborah Raney

I do try to find a name with some connection to the character’s nature, or their role in the story. Sometimes I’m subtle about it, sometimes not. “Hale Poser” for example is the name of the protagonist in River Rising. He is in some respects a type of Moses, strong spiritually and on a mission to save his people. “Hale” means “healthy,” and like the ancient Egyptian word “moses” it also means “to lift up.” To “pose,” of course, is to extend an offer, to question, or to assume an artificial attitude. He does all three at various points in the story. -Athol Dickson

I got a letter just this past week asking why I'd chosen a certain name for a character. Seems the name was the same as the grandfather of the guy writing me. Hated to disappoint the guy, but really, my name-choosing is quite unscientific. I do think of the basic stuff--make sure it's not too close to another name in the novel, make sure it has a nice rhythm to it. I want my protagonist's names to be friendly-sounding. I consider the age of the character--would that name have been used at his/her birth? That's about it. -Brandilyn Collins

Not really. I sometimes pop onto and browse. My editor, however, thinks I have an unfortunate talent of naming all my characters with the same letter from the alphabet. I don't do this on purpose, but she's right. Sometimes it ends up Jason, Jennifer, Jack, Jonah... Or Ray, Clay, Trey...Weird. -Rene Gutteridge

I obsess until the names finally "fit." I sometimes use name books, especially books with Irish surnames, given names, and place names, as well as regional telephone directories, historical journals and records, etc. I can't write the first word until my characters are named, and they have to wear those names perfectly and comfortably for a time before the story can start to take form. -BJ Hoff

For major characters, I often go through baby name books to search for names with meanings that amplify character. For minor characters, I use my friends or the phone book. –Angela Hunt

For my historicals, I love to visit churchyards in Scotland and combine the first name from one headstone with the last name from another, looking for names that represent the time period. I also say the names outloud, plug them into a dramatic sentence or a funny sentence, ask myself how the name will sound if it's whispered or screamed. I try to choose names that will wear well, that suit the character, and are fairly short. (I'm about to have a heroine named "Elizabeth" and am hoping I won't regret those four, long syllables!) -Liz Curtis Higgs

Once again, I listen and let the characters introduce themselves to me. If that fails, I have two places I go to choose names: the phone book and a “Name Your Baby” book. -Ann Tatlock

I keep all high school graduation programs. They're a wonderful source for character names. -Lori Copeland

I take directories of names, alumni yearbooks and the like, and mix and match. A first name here, a last name there. -James Scott Bell


At 9:07 AM, Blogger Kristy Dykes said...

Great ideas. Thanks.

My dh is a minister, so I just pull down our ministers' address book and hunt through the thousands of entries to get my surnames, and sometimes first names, mixing them up of course. Eugenia Price used to name secondary and minor characters after her friends and acquaintances--with their permission, and not only their permission, but their enthusiasm. She used their full names. To get your name in a Eugenia Price novel became a clamored-after thing among her friends.

At 12:02 PM, Blogger Lynetta said...

I just started reading A River Rising last night. I loved how the reader doesn't even get to know the name of Hale Poser until a few scenes into the book, when he introduces himself. I thought it was a very clever way to keep me wondering about who this guy is and what he is doing there.

At 1:24 PM, Blogger PatriciaW said...

Interesting question. Just read a newspaper article the other day about common names that are no longer popular, like Mary, Bob, Carol, etc. People who were polled say these names suggest a certain age, above 50, and therefore a certain mindset. Newer names that have made the list include Mackenzie, Sydney, and Dylan. These are considered to suggest younger folks, among other characteristics. Food for thought.

At 3:18 AM, Blogger Christina Tarabochia said...

Liz, the long name of "Elizabeth" sure won't hurt your word count!


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