Monday, August 06, 2007

Naming Names

Another good question from the folks at Fangs, Fur & Fey:

I'm really interested in how the rest of you name your characters. Do you labor over the character's personality and go from there? Or does a name spring to mind and then you build the character around it?

I do it both ways, actually. I've had characters come to me with names already attached to them. But more often than not, I have a character who is nebulously forming in my head UNTIL I find the perfect name -- at which point they then snap into focus.

I have used all sorts of methods to find names for my characters, too. I have several baby name books that I've collected, my favorites (and the most useful) being the ones that divide by country/ethnic group. I've also used the St. Paul/Minnepolis phone book for surnames -- though I do have one book that lists British surnames.

Names are VERY important to me. Until a character has the right name, I'm not satified with them. I have been known to change a character's name several times until I get it right. Although I rarely change the main/p.o.v. character's name once I've settled on it. Side characters might go through constant change, however.

I sometimes name characters in light of what their name actually means, but I tend to be much more intutitive than that. If it feels right, sounds right, then it fits.

How about you?

6 comments:

MariAdkins said...

Like you, I've had some who gave me their names right off, others didn't come as easily. I have a baby name book, but mostly I use the Harlan County telephone book -- if I don't, my husband rants and raves over the names not "sounding Harlan enough". :snort:

I had a character in my first book who didn't have a second name until late in the second book - until he needed one. And then, I went nuts trying to find the right last name. In the end, it had to be Devon - next to no Devons in Kentucky, none in Harlan County...Go figure.

Names are VERY important to me. Until a character has the right name, I'm not satisfied with them.

Yup!

Stephanie Zvan said...

Frankly, I use my company's employee directory when I want a name that doesn't deliberately fade into the background. We've got offices all over the world, so I get a fair range. The one thing I don't get, and can't always tell without research, is the gender usually associated with the name.

I've also used the family genealogy and languages that are fairly obscure in the US. In the last case, I often mix and match pieces of words until I get something that resembles a name--and doesn't have Google hits. This is great for when I want a bunch of names that feel like they come from the same society.

ryan v said...

Yeah, what you said. Unless I have *the* name, the character doesn't groove all the way. Middle names are a delight to find while I'm writing, though. :)

The frustration is the fact that I suck at thinking up spontaneous names. I often use foreign names - because they sound more exotic, they inspire me more - and I have to do a name hunt every once in a while to find one.

I keep meaning to find a good baby name book but haven't yet. Since I've started writing novels and ogling publication, I've been doing more name hunting.

MariAdkins said...

This is the one I use.

Kelly Swails said...

I use the "40,001 best baby names." All kinds in there from the past fifty years. It doesn't give a long, drawn-out meaning with the name; it lists a one-word meaning and the country of origin, which is usually enough for me. I've been known to use friend's last names, people I grew up with, etc. In my first book I used my husband's college internet name for a throwaway character.

I fumble around until I get the right name. I'll switch names in the middle if I have to. Sometimes I find that the character sometimes bends to the name ... as in, I had sketched character A to be a serious, anal- rententive type but with the name I gave her she wants to be more of a softie. If's she's a major character and has to be a bitch, I'll change the name. If she's not and doesn't, I'll leave it. Usually I find it's best to get the heck outta the story's way.

ryan v said...

I'll give them a look, Mari and Kelly S! Man, I've been looking for good ones for a while, and recommendations are nice. :D