Wednesday, August 26, 2009
What's in a Name?
Yesterday, I got a message on Facebook from a friend who is an avid reader of Christian Fiction. She asked how I came up with names for my characters. She had recently finished a book where she thought the character's name didn't fit the story/time period it was written in.
This got me to thinking about how I come up with a character's name. Here's what I wrote back to my friend:
I think there are as many ways of chosing a character's name as there are writers out there. I like to use Census lists of popular names if I can. I go back to around the time I think my character was born, then try to find a Census ...list of popular names for that era. If I'm going to use something really out there, I try to justify it by telling the reader why. (Old family surname, a place of special meaning to the parents, or something.) And if all else fails, I use a Bible name. Those are timeless. In a series I'm writing now, the heroine's names were all chosen to be alliterative for the titles, Clara and the Cowboy, Lily and the Lawman, Maggie and the Maverick. Each name belongs to the era (1883-84 Idaho Territory.) Caitlin, Lauren, and Madison just wouldn't work for me, too modern! But if I had been writing contemporary romance, these would've worked great.
So, for you, does the name come first, or does the character? (For me, both of these happen pretty simultaneously. And I don't have much trouble changing a character's name partway through the story if I have to. I wrote one book with the idea that all three brothers would have names that started with the same letter...which my crit partners quickly pointed out was too confusing. So I changed two of the names...interestingly enough, the middle brother kept his original name. Nathan became Jonathan, Noah stayed Noah (sort of) and Nick became Eli.)
Have you read a book recently where the character's name didn't seem to fit with the story? (I can't think of a specific story right now, though I'm sure I have. I always wondered about Michaela in Dr. Quinn. It was such a trendy Mid-90's name, that it seemed out of place and contrived for 1880's Colorado...though I could be wrong. I've just never come across it in a Census name list or history book for that era.)
Have you read a book where the character's name was perfect? (I love the names of the heroes in Dick Francis' books. Torquil Kelsey, Alexander Kinloch, Peter Darwin [no relation to Charles] Max Moreton. Great names, and so very British.)
Is there a name you would never use for a hero or heroine? (I will never call a hero Jerry...bad experience in fourth grade.)
One you'd never use for a villain? (I could never name a villain Peter. :) )
How about you?