Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Name Garme #amwriting

The Name Game
Names are important and I give a lot of thought to naming my characters. I have a baby naming book in my office and a couple of naming sites bookmarked on my computer.  My own name, Ute, is a German name that's more often than not mispronounced. (It's ooh-tah). I've learned to love it over the years, but  it hasn't always been easy to live with.

Maybe because of my name, or maybe despite it, I don't care for character names that make me trip over my tongue. No Yenouriandosia or Dxelegoginocins for me, thank you very much.  They'd stop me in my tracks every time I read them and, because I am quite possibly the world's worst speller, using them as a writer would no doubt ignite my spell checker and send flames shooting out over the keyboard.

I tend to favor simple names that are just different enough to be memorable and, if I can find them, have some significance to the story.

The easiest way to connect names to story is to connect them to time and place. The Sweet Lenora Series is set in the 1850s and the heroine's name, Lenora, is (I hope) reflective of the time. Her maiden name, Brewer, carries her New England roots. The hero, Anton Boudreaux, is from New Orleans and his name tells of his Creole French background.

Contemporaries can be harder to get right, and sometimes I have to reach a little further. The heroine of The P-Town Queen, Nikki Silva, is named after her father, Nick, a first born child who might have been a boy. Her last name is Portuguese and common in Southeastern Massachusetts. India Othmar, the heroine of Afterglow, is a kindergarten teacher. Her last name comes from Charles Shultz. In the Peanuts cartoons, Linus's kindergarten teacher is Mrs. Othmar. Her first name comes from a movie, Mr. and Mrs. Bridges, which starred Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, about a long married couple whose marriage isn't very happy.  The Joanne Woodward character was called India.  Mallory Prescott, of Dancing in the White Room, gets her name from George Mallory, a mountain climber who died on Mt. Everest.

Sometimes, naming can be fun. I had a grand time naming the characters in Confessions of the Sausage Queen; the Minhouser sisters, Mindy and Mandy; Randy Handy, now married to Mandy to make her Mandy Handy; Mindy's husband Ricky Grinowski, one of the Grin boys, and his brother Stannie, named for the hockey cup.

I'm working on several new stories now, with new characters. I've named them all and as I write these stories, and the characters begin to take on a life of their own, I hope they will grow into the names I've chosen for them.

How do you chose your characters names?

'Til next time


Jude Johnson said...

Thanks, Ute. I use online baby name sites, and the most popular for foreign babies as well. Right now my New England/Revolutionary characters are names of the day: George, Jane, Enoch, Hecuba...

Olga Godim said...

Great post, Ute. I agree with you about the names and always try to give my characters pronounceable names, even if the story is fantasy, set in an imaginary world.
Not every fantasy writer thinks this way though. And not every reader would agree either. I recently read The Goblin Emperor. It was a good story, but the names there defeated me: too many and too alien. I said so in my review, and some readers were unhappy. They commented that they specifically liked the 'goblin' names.
No account for taste, I guess. :)

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Naming wisely and neatly helps readers orient themselves to the sense of place.

Because foreign names can be stumbling blocks for readers, and trick writers into inconsistencies, I used cut and paste to keep my Tahitian names the same. I learned them from a waitress in the Cook Islands where they speak English.

Many writers these days use names that hint of the person’s character. Lawrence Sanders, mystery writer in the seventies, was the first I noticed doing that, and I have followed suit.

January Bain said...

Thanks, Ute for a highly relevant blog. I so enjoy choosing the names of my characters and they can change during the course of a novel till they are exactly right. Best regards, January

Unknown said...

Thanks everyone. Naming is one of the fun and also important aspects of writing fiction.
I change my character names too sometimes, January, or just use "John" and "Mary" until i can come up with something that works. :)