Monday, May 3, 2010

Modern . . . Names

Giveaways - Today's the last day for Jennifer Hudson Taylor's Highland Blessings, and we also have Lena Nelson Dooley's Love Finds You in Golden, New Mexico.


Ever wonder where authors get some of the names they use for characters? I was asked this recently in an interview, and it made me consider how different the process is for a contemporary novel versus a historical one.

For a historical, I have to make sure the name I'm using is historically accurate. That means coming up with a list of possibilities and checking them against census records, the Social Security Administration's database, or, if going really far back in history before those two online resources are helpful, historical documents. It can be constrictive, but it can also be really fun to discover what names were popular back in 1784. And I can still end up with unique-sounding character names that are perfectly acceptable--like Lark and Emerson, for example.

For contemporaries, we have the freedom to use whatever name we please, but we still have to be careful. They have to appeal to the eye. They have to sound good. Be easily pronounced. We can't have more than one (usually) character's name that begins with a given letter. We need to be aware of meaning. The name needs to fit their personality. All that fun stuff.

I have several ways of coming up with my contemporary names. I do searches in online baby naming databases, sometimes based on ethnicity, sometimes on meaning. I watch credits on TV and movies and jot down the names I like. And my longest list exists from my days of data entry in college, when I sat with a Post-It note by my side and wrote down all the names I entered into our computers that I liked. Male, Female, and Surnames.

And I love names. I love how creative I can get. I now have these characters in my contemps.: Davina, Keaton, Orchid, Willow. Cantara, Smith, Peaches. One of my critters got a kick out of my family of five siblings named Logan, Phineas, Melrose, Julian, and Taylor--from the same book as Sawyer and Riley. I've got my Giovanni, who goes by Vanni. I've got my Garret and Celeste and Alton. I've got my Remington. And I've got my . . . Louisa?

Sometimes I look at a story and have no idea where this nice, common name has come from. I mean, seriously. Where did I come up with Louisa? There's nothing wrong with the name, don't get me wrong. I like the name. It's just not like my usual choices. And looking back on when I started this story . . . I really have no idea how I chose it.

This is the book titled Yesterday's Tides that I've mentioned on here a few times, the one whose idea kept me up one night, and then over the next three days I wrote 150 pages. I couldn't have spared too awful much time for naming when I got started, given that 50-pages-a-day rate. I think I just picked a name and ran with it, telling myself I could always change it later.

Only I can't. Know why? Louisa is Louisa. Authors will tell you about this all the time--when a character really fits their name, there's just no messing with it. Louisa is one of those. She's a Southern girl who can tackle the world and has. One who would give up anything for her family and has. The name means "warrior" and that's what Louisa is--but she chooses her fights. She doesn't fight for herself, she fights for those she loves. And she comes out of it completely unaware of how strong she's come to be.

Readers, have you ever read a book where the character names just seemed wrong? Or one where it was so perfect you actually still remember them (LOL)? Writers, do you have a trick for naming, or a story about one you got so wrong or so right . . . or were so surprised by? Share, share!


  1. One of the ARC's I reviewed had an author switching back and forth between two very different names for the male antagonist. The one she ended up choosing was the much better of the two, but it made for a confusing read until I realized what was going on.

  2. LOL, Tiffany. That WOULD be confusing. But so long as it was only in the ARC . . .

    Though I do have a book or two where they get the characters' last names wrong on the back cover. Oops!

  3. I struggle with picking names. Try not to think about it too much, but I do love names that are different. My youngest son I named Andrew Jaben. I was going to do Jaben Andrew, but was afraid it would be too much. That was 30 years ago. I think it would be fine for today's standards.

  4. I once read a manuscript where the main character's name was Tiphanie. Like Tiffany, just spelled really different. Made for a challenging read.