Femme Fatale Names

For my first Character of the Week I want to feature a character in a contemporary, realistic fiction novel. This way I can explain my basic process for naming. (Note: My naming examples will come from public Forums, with some edits to for space, consistency and to minimize the amount of plot mentioned.)

Female, 19 or 20, Contemporary
Where born/raised: Unknown, somewhere on the East Coast. She is a hitchhiker traveling with the MMC to California.
Names of characters she interacts with: She travels with and has sex with SAM, a 19/20 year old stranger. Their adventures escalate from shoplifting, to hard drugs, to theft, arson, etc., and the MMC goes along with it until she kills someone. She is evil but with some element of humanity.
Characteristics: Devious, charismatic, beautiful, fun, brilliant, quick, guiltless, ominous, alluring
Literary Fiction

The first thing I do to get a feeling for the writer’s naming style is to look up the character names they have on my favorite baby naming website, Namipedia, to see how popular the names are, whether they are associated with any well-known people or characters, what background the name comes from, and any sibling names listed. I do not much care what the “meaning” of a name is, especially in realistic fiction (fantasy is a different matter altogether), because most readers will not know the meaning and because the “feeling” I instinctually get from the name is more important in my process. It’s more important to me, as a namer, if the names I list “feel” like the character described than if they “mean” something appropriate.

Here the name SAM does not offer much in the way of style. It is a typical, fairly popular name that reads as an “everyman” to me. The only thing to note is that it could be short for SAMSON, who is known for choosing to be intimate with a woman who was his downfall. An interesting, literary, bit o’ trivia, but not helpful in naming. I tend not to go with obvious names, like DELILAH.

The second thing I do is look up the birth year in the Social Security Administration’s Popular Baby Names list. I do some of my best creative work under limitations, so by looking at the 100 popular names for the year by state, or at up to 1000 popular names for the year, I can skim along to find names that are appropriate for the time (and state of origin, if available). I start from the bottom of the page, the least popular and generic names, and think about one or two main qualities of the character. I often say the names out loud to listen for names that “sound right”, and I add those names to a blank document. In the end, if I’m lucky I have a list of 7-8 names to whittle down from (though, sometimes I’ve not gotten any even from a list of 1000 names).

In this case, I must have missed that the writer saw her as from the East Coast. I started by looking at the list of 100 names that were popular in California 20 years ago and found nothing. Then I switched to the list of 1000 names from that year, skimming for names that sounded FUN and ALURING. I quickly got a list that I then took back to Namipedia, to make sure none had unthought-of connotations.

I generally try to avoid names with the same starting letter, or ones that sound too alike, although here I must have found a favorite sound and felt it was just right. I usually put the names in order from my favorite for the character at top, down to my least favorite of the list.

  • Malia
  • Anika
  • Aja
  • Kati
  • Asha

Note: I asked everyone to let me know if they used one of the names from my list, and which they chose. Most did, but this writer did not. This was a later request and the writer might not have seen my answer, since at that point I was replying only via NaNoMail and not in the Thread proper.

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