Wednesday, 19 December 2012

RTW: Naming Characters



Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival" where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing-or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's question is:


How do you decide on names? Would you ever name a character after a friend/family member/ex?     


My WIP is sci-fi and takes place about thirty years from now, so I wanted to find names that weren’t trendy and current, but also not so bizarre that they sounded really futuristic. What worked for me was to comb through lists of names from different cultures. This opened up a lot more variety and also added to a global feel in my story. I did use a few traditional names, mainly because those particular characters seemed to emerge from my imagination with their names already attached.

It’s amazing how many hours can be put into searching for just the right name to reflect a character’s personality, or how a unique name can actually help a character take shape. Sometimes I’ll tentatively choose a name and find that the character sort of grows into it, and then I can’t imagine him/her being called anything else.

More often than not though, I have an idea of what I’m looking for in terms of the sound of a name or what sort of image I want that name to project. In certain cases I get hung up on quirky things, for example, in my current WIP I wanted my mc to have a name that began with “N”. Don’t know why, but that just seemed right to me. Another character I could only picture with a floral name. Maybe that’s odd, but I think it’s my gut telling me what sort of name will compliment a character, even if I can’t put my finger on the exact name yet.

As for the second question, I prefer not to name characters after anyone I know. I want to associate my characters’ names with their personalities and not with real people. The exception to this is last names. I did use the surname of an ancestor in my family tree for a character in a contemporary romance I’m writing. That’s not so distracting though, seeing as I didn’t actually know my great-great-great-great-great grandmother. And I really love the name, so I couldn’t resist. :)

So how do you go about naming your characters? Any tips or quirky hang ups in your decision making process?

12 comments:

  1. Interesting idea about looking at names from different cultures. I only use last names of people I know. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It seems like many cultures have variations on similar names too, so sometimes you can find a different version of a familiar name and it looks unique. That's cool that you only use last names of people you know. It's a nice way to acknowledge friends & family. :)

      Delete
  2. Hahaha :D I used the last name Morrow in the book I'm currently querying :P I wonder where I took it from.
    But otherwise, I changed one character's name and it was tough but at the end felt right.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hmm, that name sounds familiar. :)

      Changing a character's name would be really tough. Glad it worked out in the end!

      Delete
  3. Whoa, Nelly! Name a character after an ex? Are they out of their minds? I would so never do that. As you know, I went a little gung-ho naming my characters in WATCH OF NIGHT. I so badly wanted their names to be significant. Way. Too. Time-consuming. After that I decided to just go with names that felt right and required minimal research (in other stories I've worked on).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know, right? I saw the question about naming a character after an ex and I wondered who on earth would ever do that? Yeah, I'm over giving my characters names with significant meanings too. Choosing a name because of its meaning really narrows down the choices fast. Now I'm more concerned over whether it sounds fitting for the personality of the character. And, as you know, I was very happy with the names I dug up for my cast of characters. :)

      Delete
  4. Like you, I'm fine with re-using surnames. So many people share the same last name I have a hard time connecting a surname to just one person. But first names? Mmm, I try really hard not to use one of a person I know, unless it's a really common name.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, that's a good point. And really surnames don't come up as much in stories anyway. I had one character that for some reason I pictured as a "Justin" and it drove me nuts because I didn't want him to share a name with the Biebs. Try as I might, I couldn't shake the name though and so he's still Justin. Ah well. :)

      Delete
  5. I love this idea of drawing names from other cultures, you're the second person whose mentioned doing that. Like I said in my response, names often come to me attached to characters, but for minor characters or secondary characters, sometimes I have to do some more work. I tend to be like you. I have a letter I'd like it to start with and go from there.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I also found a lot of spelling and pronunciation variations on names that are fairly common when I started looking at name lists arranged according to culture. I used a few of those because they sounded somewhat familiar but with a twist. I'm glad I'm not the only one that gets hung up on what letter a character's name starts with. I thought maybe that was a bit obsessive, but I guess not! :)

      Delete
  6. I've definitely had writing projects that never got off the ground because I spent SO long staring at baby name websites. So for this WiP, I mostly went with my gut. In a few cases, since I was inspired by a poem that itself was inspired by history, I looked back to the source and then modernized the names I found. The rest just kind of came to me--and since they're all at least fairly common names, I knew people at some point with all of them. I figure as long as it's not a person who's really in my life right now--as long as the person I once knew with that name isn't influencing the character--that it's ok.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I had to force myself to plow ahead with certain characters unnamed because it took me so long to find the right name for some of them. In those cases, I left a blank and inserted names later. My cast of characters is fairly large which made it even more time consuming, but the hours on baby name websites paid off though, because I'm happy with the names I found.

      That's a good idea to modernize the names from the poem that your WIP is based on, because it gives you a starting point and maintains a bit of a connection to the original work. I suppose if you're writing contemporary a lot of the names would have to be reasonably common as well, which means there's a good chance you'll know (or used to know) at least someone who goes by that name.

      Delete