Friday, December 9, 2011

N+A+M+E = ?

You could say I'm a lazy-namer when it comes to characters.

I don't agonize over the meanings behind names, or pick clever/interesting names. Honestly, I don't even give them a lot of thought whatsoever.

And this probably isn't a surprise to anyone who follows my blog since I've admitted to being a complete and total pantser*.

Often I use the first name that springs to mind and just keep moving forward with my writing.** Sometimes it's 'cause the name makes me laugh or it has some kind of strange/unconscious association with someone/thing which I don't even understand myself until later. The name just comes out of thin air, shows up on the page and that's that.

The name Triss (from Project #4) was a 'this feels right, moving on' kind of name. But I swear, after looking back, there's some actual logic behind it.

I wanted a strong, single-syllable, uni-sex name that is a chosen deviation from her 'real-name'. For me, it has everything to do with my impression of the character. She's strong, opinionated, rebellious, and because of her... uhm, questionable relationship with the nameless/genderless MC, the uni-sex quality of the name (Triss is short for Tristan, which is the character's middle name) was especially important to me. Somehow, the particular combination of sounds 'fit' that impression. If someone suggested another name which fit all those requirements and sounded right to my ears, I'd have no problem changing it.

The name Simon (from project #3) ultimately was a device to make me laugh. I had been reading articles on dialogue tags, y'know, the ones that tell you to always use 'said'.

...and my brain went, "how funny if the character was named Simon, so every time the character spoke, it would be, "Simon says", like that silly children's game, and the other characters would have to obey.***

...which quickly morphed into an overprotective older brother where the younger brother's character arc would consist of getting out from under his brother's shadow and making his own choices.

The younger brother was named after the chivalrous hero Hector from 'The Illiad' as, out of the two brothers, he is the one who is innocent, trusting and noble. This is one of those connections that I only figured out after I was about 3/4 through the story.  I simply 'knew' it was the right name because of how I felt about the character.

Unlike 'Triss', the names 'Hector' & 'Simon' will never change.

Faith, the most important secondary character in Project #3, well, it's pretty obvious I'm not getting any points for subtlety on that one... but I'm going to bet that no one who has read Project #3 (or the synopsis some of you readers kindly agreed to critique for me) would be able to guess why she's called Faith.

That's one of those things I'll take to my grave, but I'll give one very important (but probably unhelpful) clue. Not one single character in the entire story ever addresses Faith by name until the final scene. At that time, Simon speaks her name once and another character poses the question, "Faith in what, I wonder?"

What about you guys? How much thought do you put into names? Does it have to be the-perfect-name? Do you use names from people in real life, or from movies/books/entertainment? How likely are you to change a character's name? Would you, if an agent/editor asked you to?



* Hey, if I don't even know the name or gender of my MC, I'd say I've hit a new level of pantsing. Although I don't think it's something to be especially proud of, at least I'm having fun :)

** For some reason, 'J' names are unusually prevalent.

*** yes, yes, yes, I know I've got a strange sense of humor... especially considering I made it a point to never actually use the phrases 'Simon said' or 'Simon says' through the course of the entire book.

9 comments:

  1. Haha, love the idea of naming a character Simon! That's very funny :)

    I don't tend to put much thought into names. Occasionally, I derive character names from Latin, but usually I just pick them because they sound cool. :P

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  2. @ Nick

    I always have to have something weird that entertains me 'cause I've got a short attention span. I think, if I didn't have a child-like sense of humour (where if something is funny once, it's funny 100 times), I wouldn't be able to spend so much time editing/re-working the stories I write.

    Sometimes you need additional goals rathe than simply *finishing* the story. You have to find some way to love it, even after going through it 100+ times ;)

    ...and there's nothing wrong with picking names 'cause they sound cool ;)

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  3. I totally do this too! Great post!

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  4. I usually know my characters names when they come to me before the story, and I won't change those. But if the story comes first then I tend to just pick what I think will work - I have no problems changing those ones and I do, often.

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  5. @ JA Bennett

    Glad to hear I'm not the only one... so, would you change the names if asked?

    @ Sarah Pearson

    That's cool :) Stand firm when it makes sense, bend when you can compromise :)

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  6. Keep Triss cause that's who she is.

    One of my WIP the hero and herine are not named, unless you read carefully
    and in my other one the names popped up with the story - three are based on boys I knew in school, one is obvious, one girl has my middle name and the other girl is named for an online friend I think

    names I have no trouble with - everything else I do :D

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  7. @ sue

    So, do you just take the names from people you know, or do you also base the characters on that person?

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  8. Hmm actually do both for chester I used a person I know some characteristics but not name, for the kids I used name and some characteristics that I imagined, I never use the name and characteristics except in one case actually - devil and mistress total imagination

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  9. @ sue

    Ah, so it's different every time :) I always find it interesting how the brain makes connections between seemingly random things and you end up with this complete character who is a mish-mash of hundreds of people/experiences.

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Type me out a line of Shakespeare or a line of nonsense. Dumb-blonde-jokes & Irish jokes will make me laugh myself silly :)