Friday, August 3, 2012

Naming Characters: Won't Somebody Please Think of The Parents?

There have been some great posts about how to name characters. I like this one, by Nadia Jones guesting on Lisa Amowitz's blog.

Recently, I had to choose names for two characters in my next WIP, both of whom are Irish and younger than me. I don't know many people younger than me. With older characters, I can look at people I know and say 'Hmmm. I know lots of Lauras, Jennys and Sarahs in their early 30s. They're probably safe names to use for that age group - and seemingly the trend then was for nice, modern, simple, easy to spell names, so if I call a character Emmaline or Ada or Fylycyty, I may need to explain myself just a bit.'

Equally, a lot of simple, older names are currently back in fashion in Ireland - Rose, Molly, Emma, Eva. Even Ellen is making a comeback, which I never thought I'd see! I love those names, but if I chose one for a character born in 1996, it wouldn't ring true, because that trend hadn't taken hold then.

I know very few young folk born around 1996, being a curmudgeon at heart. So I consulted one (he was very helpful), and Googled a lot, and read census reports, and thought about what names would suit my main characters. I wanted one of them to have a feminine name that shortened to a male name (Samantha, Roberta, that kind of thing) but very few were popular during the period when my character would have been born.

When naming a character, I find it helps to remember that a character's name is a) a product of the time when they were born, not when the book takes place, and b) chosen by their parents. One my characters would have loved to be called Dylan or Madison, but her parents would never have chosen that. If I had called her Dylan, it would have been a mistake - and it would have really messed up my characterisation of her parents, who are quite conventional Irish people and would never chose such an unusual name for a baby girl.

Choosing a name is not about the character - it is about their family.

That can set up some interesting conflicts - my wannabe-Dylan's character has been shaped by the fact she feels her personality is at odds with her name. She feels as though her name holds her back.

So talking of the role that parents play in naming our characters, how do you feel about the role your parents played in naming you? Do you like your name? Does anyone? :)

12 comments:

  1. Honestly, I think my name is a bit boring. Being the oldest of three girls (I'm actually the middle of five, but the older two are boys) I tease my sisters that mom liked my name best. :)
    I think about trends from different times, too. I coach speech and I end up using names of my students sometimes. Like Megan. I swear not a year goes by that I don't have at least one Megan on my team!

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    1. Rachel is one of my favourite names :) I don't think it's boring at all!

      Megan is showing a lot of staying power over here too, it's been popular for ages!

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  2. Names are fascinating. It is fun to choose them as a writer. I'll change names a dozen times before I settle on one, and it's so satisfying when it comes out RIGHT! Around here, the older names are really taking hold. Stella. Hazel. Ruth. Names I never thought would come back in style!

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    1. Same here, I never thought I'd see those names again!

      I think choosing character names is one of the best things about being a writer :)

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  3. I work with a Kylie. She's 24 years old and so reflects the fact that she's a late 1980's child! LOL!!!

    My name (esp. when used with my surname) is extremely common! I think my parents ran out of inspiration when they had me - the youngest. My older siblings all have very unique names!

    Take care
    x

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    1. I once came across a Billie Jean born in the mid-80s. I didn't like to ask if her parents were into pop music or tennis :)

      I always think of you as Kitty :)

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  4. Intersting topic...I usually name my character's accrding to thier personalities.

    Hugs,
    Shelly
    http://www.shellysnovicewritings.blogspot.com/

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    1. I try to do that too, Shelly :) Sometimes a name just suits a character, though, and I have to go with it regardless of the meaning!

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  5. Ha! This was a great and thoughtful post! Something that really needs to be considered when writing. My first thought was for the parents of the characters in Sci-Fi Fantasy world type writing...and thought that would be what your post would be about. When I read names like Dyrolia or Stamnos or Myn (don't take those...I might sell them to someone who can't think of a name!) I have wondered why and where those names have come from. Fantasy names are always a distraction to me when I'm reading. Do they bother anyone else?

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the post! I don't mind fantasy names when they're both consistent and difficult to confuse - a book with M'pau, M'vau and M'pal would drive me nuts very fast, but so would a book with M'Pau, Natsuko and Bob.

      Fantasy is difficult, but I like names to follow a reasonably consistent system but also to be easy enough to tell apart so I don't constantly have to go back to previous pages to figure out who people are!

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  6. My actual name I don't like at all... I was named after my dad, but it's just a dull name. I would have preferred William, obviously.

    I go for a lot of different nationality names when I'm writing, and I'll prefer to go for the traditional sounding names when possible. One exception: a villain I've introduced in my current book who'll be the primary antagonist in a couple of books down the line, a terrorist named Cain.

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    1. William was my dad's name, so I'm a big fan of it :) His family called him Liam (the Irish for William) growing up, but once he moved to the UK he reverted to William (in those pre-Oasis days, the British couldn't get to grips with Liam and tended to call him Leon!) which got shortened to Bill. I think all forms of it are nice!

      In fantasy settings I often cheat and use Irish names - just unusual enough!

      I like Cain, I think it's a great name for a terrorist!

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