I have my 75,000+ Baby Names book out again.
If you ever want to make a man’s heart skip, just leave that thing on the edge of your desk. I get the book out several times a year, always eliciting a look of panic from my husband no matter how many times I explain that I’m only using it for work.
Typically when Baby Names comes out I’m starting a story, but right now I’m finishing one. This is the handy-dandy reference that helps me name characters, which isn’t nearly as easy as you might think. This time around, for instance, I’m not naming a character but renaming one after starting out with a name that sounds way too similar to a character in another author’s story. (It wouldn’t matter, really, but we’re in an anthology together and don’t want to confuse readers!)
What’s in a name, anyway?
If you’re a reader or writer of fiction, you probably know the answer. A lot.
So many memorable characters have cool sounding names: Roarke, Scarpetta, Holden. Frequently, names in fiction are chosen to conjure up images. (Han Solo, Clarice Starling, Bella Swan, to mention a few). But there’s more to choosing a character name than imagery, unfortunately. Oftentimes it takes me longer to come up with the right name than the opening scene.
Many of my characters aren’t born at the beginning of a book, but in the middle of one. I’ll be in the midst of a scene and boom, new character walks in and I have to figure out what to call him. Call him Sam and get on with it, you might think. Problem is, the secondary characters could end up having their own books down the road. And whatever name I pulled out of the sky on that fateful day, I’m stuck with it for months and months. So it had better be good, heroic-sounding, worthy of a 100,000-word story.
Here are just a few criteria I think about: How does the name sound? Is it too similar to other names in my story? (Anyone who has ever read a book populated with guys named Jake, Jared, and Jacob knows how annoying this can be. Why not just toss in a woman named Jaymee and drive the reader completely nuts?)
So I make an effort not to have all my characters names start with the same letter. Also, I try to avoid names that end with “s” because that just gives me grief later when I’m making possessives. And that’s when the detective spotted it! On the rain-drenched sidewalk was Amy Meyers’s bloody scarf….
Usually I come up with a first name simply by thinking about my character and consulting my baby names book. Pairing it with a last name is where the trouble starts.
Here’s how hero-naming often goes for me: I think of something fabulous. It’s simple, macho-sounding without being over the top. The name works well with my heroine. Her name doesn’t sound kooky with it, should they get married someday (I don’t want to end up with a Sunny Skye or something). At last, I have the perfect name for my leading man. I turn to my computer, hop onto Google, and . . .
Find out he’s a porn star. Or an NFL quarterback. Or a seventy-year-old radio personality whom I’ve never heard of but millions of people listen to daily.
Sigh. Back to the drawing board. And so it goes until finally I get it right.
How do you think of names? Besides my baby names book, I use the phone book, the social security web site, the newspaper. If you’re not a writer, how did you come up with names for your kids? Your pets?
I’m looking for fresh ideas here! Share your stories and one commenter will win a free book. In honor of this weekend’s Romantic Times convention, I’m giving away a signed copy of UNTRACEABLE, which was nominated for an RT Reviewers’ Choice Award.
Good luck and have a great weekend!