Character of the Week: A Humorous Name with Derring-Do

My husband asked me to help him with a name. He enjoys drawing and needed a name for a “headline” in his latest.

He described the character thusly: “He’s an adventurer, the kind who might go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, mid-30s in 1890 or so.”

So I jumped to the task. I looked up names on the Social Security Baby Names List, cut out those that sounded too “average Joe”, or nerdy, or “cowboy”. I sought a name that had derring-do, a name with some charm and some humor (his drawings are almost always humorous), and a name with three parts. My husband specifically wanted a full name.

I cut down the list of names to 11 names that I liked for the man, after looking at name meanings and saying the names out loud, and then I tried putting them together in my head. While the names were all used as given names in the late 1800s, some are also family names and I used them alternatingly as first, middle, or last in my examples.

You try. The names list was:

  • Oscar
  • Willie
  • Rufus
  • Roscoe
  • Mose
  • Fletcher
  • Volney
  • Esau
  • Fleming
  • Hudson
  • Judd

I tried a few name combinations out. I didn’t want to confuse him by offering him the whole list to choose from, or giving him a list of examples. I just decided to toss out a few of the names that stood out to me.

The first name combo stuck.

Rufus Fletcher Fleming

My husband loved how amusing the combo of Fletcher Fleming was, and he said he’d considered Rufus already. He didn’t even want to hear any more of the names I’d selected, because my first choice was “perfect”.

While I obviously know my husband and his tastes, that did not come into play in this naming. It was the characteristics of the character—the birth period, the derring-do, the requisite humor—that helped me discover the name that he felt was perfect. And it is the characteristics of your characters that will help you discover their perfect names as well.

Name it Again, Sam

It’s the New Year, and a time for beginnings. And sometimes endings as well.

I’ve been thinking about this little blog o’ mine for a while, and what it means to me. When I started it, when I planned to start it, I had a lot of ideas that never came to fruition. As it went on I had more ideas to add to or alter what I did, but I was never passionate enough about those ideas to put them into practice.

Now, nearly two years since I started my character naming blog I find that life has other plans. There are things that I hope to do in this new year that will require my time and attention, and, frankly, I feel like I need to have some changes over here.

I don’t want to abandon my blog, and I may just have more to say about character naming, but it’s time for me to let go of the format I have been holding on to.

One of my plans for the new year is to read more books and to read more widely. I hope to blog a bit about my reading. I also hope to blog about my writing, my ideas, and some of the other things I’m doing. I may well start a new blog for some of my activities, but I plan to keep up here with writing (and naming) related posts.

I’m not going to commit to a schedule, or even try to post as often as I have been. I hope to post weekly, or more, but I don’t want it to be a chore.

In 2014, I want my writing and writing-related activities (like reading and blogging) to be for the fun of it. This year I want to be about passion, and love, and excitement, and unicorns (figurative unicorns).

And this is what I want for you, too. Passion! Love! Excitement! Unicorns! The best year ever!

Character of the Week: Paranormal Horror Names

This was e-mailed to me this week.

The Writer Describes the Character

Female, 17, Contemporary

Born and raised in upstate New York (near the PA/NY border).

Mother is a housewife, ~45 yrs. old; Father owns computer business, ~49 yrs. old.

Parents have no names now; Brother: Louis (Loo-Eee), 15; Sister: Anne, 24.

Her friends are all currently unnamed: 3 guys (all her age-ish, are her closest friends), 3 girls, 1 other who is undecided in gender.

She is a senior in high school. Long brown hair, blue-grey eyes, wears glasses, average build/height. Bisexual (open to either gender). Quick to smile, quick to fight, die-hard loyal, is the person you’d go to for advice without a second thought, addictive personality, empathic (can basically read minds, very charming/convincing, see auras), stubborn, tough outside but is actually really sensitive/easily insulted/hurt, can’t handle problems alone (needs constant support—I guess you could call her “needy,” but she hates being that way and tries not to be).

Paranormal Horror

 Extra information about the plot: Basically, 8 teenagers go exploring in a house to learn about spirits, etc. The main 4 (main protagonist, 3 boys) are all empathic and have specific abilities. The house and whatever’s inside literally draws them in through visions/vibes. (It’s irresistible!) Inside, they face unimaginable horrors, torture of body and mind, and see their friends die at the hands of a gruesome shadow monster. Whether they escape the house in one piece is a mystery, even to me at this point.

Side note: I wanted to tell this writer that readers are likely to read Louis as Loo-iss, and if it matters to the story that he is a Loo-Eee she’ll need to have him pronounce it early on. Though even then readers will read it how they want. Then I looked into the name and learned that younger readers, mostly One Direction fans, may now think of this name as being pronounced in the French way. And yet, I still believe readers will read it how they want. If this writer cares that readers will read it differently, then I would suggest choosing a different name. (A lesson I try to keep in mind with my own name choices.)

When searching for this character’s name I had a few directions to go in. First, I looked at the names the writer had already chosen and the area where the character was born for inspiration; second, I looked at the character’s birth year on the SSA database for inspiration (less helpful than usual); third, I looked at the Baby Name Wizard for inspiration; and fourth, I looked at 20,000 Names for inspiration (searching for “female emotion names”).

Frankly, I looked in too many places because none of the sources gave me enough inspiration, but then I was left with more names than would be helpful. Cutting the list down was very hard.

My Reply to the Writer

I went in several directions when looking for this character’s name. I looked at names with “emotion” meanings, at names that were popularly used in the mid to late nineties, names that fit with the sibling names, and names that just felt right for the character. I’m offering you a cross-section of the names that stood out to me.

  • Rowena
  • Felice
  • Haley
  • Renee
  • Emily: Means Emulating

The writer replied: I’m going with Rowena; it’s not one I’ve heard very often, but it really seems to fit my writing. I never would have thought of this one. Thank you!

I’m glad this writer liked the name I liked the best, and glad that this character is named. There are so many wonderful names in the world, and I love how each one gives a character a slightly different personality.

Name Theory: Tonality

Sometimes character naming can come down to “Just the facts, Ma’am.”

Sometimes it needs something a little less tangible.

While re-reading this week’s character naming I felt like I was missing something. The writer had given me the information I asked for, but not anything more. I don’t know anything about the plot, anything about the world, or even enough of the writer’s naming style to fake it.

There is something about this writer’s book that I especially could have used when I attempted to name this character—the novel’s tone.

How does this writer plan to pursue this novel? Who are the target readers? How does this writer hope to get across the theme of this novel?

Is this going to be a dark paranormal romance, or a coming-of-age story couched in fantasy clothing, or a fantastical adventure story?

Is this story going to be humorous, or have elements of horror? Is this a “normal” world with fantasy elements, or is this a fantasy world hidden among us?

What did the character and/or her mother know of the fantasy elements before the story begins?

Any and all of this information would have given me a better understanding of what types of names would be most appropriate to the story. If her mother, for instance, was naming a girl who she knew would be a white tigers then the name Bianca would have been a way of trait naming. There are many “if”s that all relate back to the novel’s tone. Without it I was left to offer a range of options that may have been perfect and may have been off mark. With the tone I could have narrowed my search and came up with a better set of names that would give readers a feeling for the story, the character, and her arc.

If you are stuck on naming a character, think about your novel’s tone. Consider how different types of names might feel to your target readers and aim to choose a name that will resonate with your tone.

Character of the Week: White Tiger Names

We had a cat-tastrophe in my house this morning, hence the lateness of this post. Also, hence the inspiration.

The Writer Describes the Character

Female, 14-15, probably a winter birthday, present day
She was raised in an average town in an average state, maybe NY. Her mom turns out to be evil (name like Veronica or some such), and is not at home much. They have a fairly distant relationship.
Her best friends are Aoife and Vivianne.
No career yet, besides student. Darkish auburn hair, dark grey eyes, average height. Can turn into white tiger. Exceptional endurance and fighting skills, fairly quick temper, very knowledgeable.

Don’t you love how the writer just slips in there that the character can turn into a white tiger? Now I’d really like to know more of the plot.

I do like how she has made the “white tiger” a girl who has dark/redish hair and dark eyes, rather than having her with platinum hair and yellow almond-shaped eyes. Still I thought I might give one name that means “white”, along with a variety of choices that each have their own feel.

My Reply to the Writer

  • Bianca
  • Teagan
  • Wendy
  • Kali
  • Lia

This writer never replied to me, so I don’t know what name this white tiger ended up with. I do wonder about her still. So many possibilities, if only I’d known a bit of the plot so I could have refined my choices.

Name Theory: Being Marlo

I wasn’t one of the Lisas, or Julias, or Melissas growing up. In fact my name rather than ending in the feminine “a” ends in the masculine “o”.

Having an unusual name in the years when every other kid had a “normal” name was only one of the things that made me feel odd—but it was the one thing that struck me every day. Every time someone said my name I was reminded that I was different.

At that time I didn’t like that. And while I have grown to accept that I am different, that that is who I am, my name still reminds me that I will never be one of the Jennifers, or Taras, or Megans.

I have never met another Marlo. I don’t know if I ever will. At this point it is becoming increasingly likely that if I do meet another Marlo she will be an infant or small child.

Now in the age of “rare” names my name is becoming more popular than it has been. This still does not make me feel “normal”, but rather makes me think that I’m less “special” but still odd.

It’s all very complicated. My feelings about my name are complicated, but that’s how names are.

Names have different feelings and meanings for their hearers and their wearers. Names are titles that stand for specific individuals and must somehow encapsulate their essence, while still not really having anything to do with them.

That’s the thing there, isn’t it? While my name means “me”, it was given to me before anyone ever knew who I was to be. So it may not define me so much as I have come to define it.

I am not the same person I would have been if my mother had named me Jenny (the other name in the running for a girl, because my boy name would have been Miles). I am Marlo, and that is all I can ever see myself being.

Even if my 5-year-old name change to Candy had stuck I would forever be a Marlo at heart.

Character of the Week: “Being” Names

­Yesterday I was thinking about my name, what it means to me, how it has affected me—how being Marlo has made me who I am.

The Writer Describes the Character

Male, 18 (born October 1994; story set from November 2012 onwards)
Born/raised in England, some small town.
Older sister Charlotte (Charlie usually); Friend possibly called Dave or similar, friend’s little sister Sadie. Then much later, gets caught up with such people as Ithobaal and Hannibal and so on (possibly not their real names though).
Struggling at college, girl he has a crush on shows no interest, then finds himself technically an adult, never had a job or serious relationship. Then, finds himself developing strange magical powers, and much later gets slowly drawn into battle between good and evil. Supernatural/magic/good vs. evil and so on.

Also, I am rather hoping for a name that comes in different varieties, one that most people call him, a related nickname used only by close friends and a longer form for his parents/teachers when they are annoyed. Also, tentatively the book is titled “Being [whatever his name is]”, so something that fits that phrase would be ideal.


My Reply to the Writer

It’s very hard to find current British names that are long enough to have one or two nicknames. I did my best. If not for that I would like to go with a name with more bite, like Rhys.

  • Cameron (Cam)
  • Brandon (Brand)
  • Dominic (Dom and Nic)
  • Lucas (Luca and Luc)
  • Nathaniel (Nat and Nate)
  • Maxwell (Max)

This writer never replied to me, so I can only assume that none of these names was chosen. This was a difficult naming in that the writer had a list of qualities desired for the name beyond the character’s description. I also felt there was something nebulous and unsaid that the writer really wanted from the name.

I get it, though. Names have more meanings than letters. I’ll discuss mine on Wednesday.

Name Theory: “Meanings”

Names can have a different feel to people based on their experience of the name. I personally have two very close friends with the same name, and know two very difficult people with the same name—and now those two names are tied up in those associations.

For writers this can be good, as when a name’s associations are cultural and will “mean” the same thing to readers, or bad, as when the writers’ associations are extremely personal and the writer makes the mistake of thinking their feelings are universal.

I’m sure I do this. Some names I think of as ugly, or weird, or dated. I have to keep reading up on names to keep up with the trends in name fashion, but I know not everyone will do this.

As writers, however, we all need to be aware of our prejudices so that what we write will resonate with readers—rather than be so dissonant that the reader is taken out of the story. As I like to say, the suspension of disbelief will only go so far.

Part of the reason why I suggest five names to writers is because I know my associations won’t always match their associations, or that my preferences won’t match their preferences. This week I suggested Katherine for a character, and the writer liked the name—but that does not mean it was chosen for the same reason I suggested it.

Name fashion, like language, is fluid and changing. I try to roll with the tide. Won’t you come with me?


Here’s a little game for you (don’t guess if you know me in real life):

  • Which one of these is the name of two of my best friends?
  • Which is the name of a few bitchy girls I went to high school with?
  • Which is the name of two difficult women I know?
  • Judy
  • Tara
  • Lisa

Character of the Week: Dead Girl Names

Remember how I said that I belong to a Jane Austen book club.

The Writer Describes the Character

Female, mid-20s
She was born and raised in a small town in the Northeastern portion of New York state.
Her father was an auto mechanic and overall a shady character. He abandoned their family when the FMC was around ten and hasn’t been heard from much since. Her mother is a photographer and dreamed of escaping her small town, but never did. She’s incredibly quiet and is an avid reader of romance novels. She was born in Texas, lived in Germany for a time, and ended up in the same town where the FMC was born when she was a teenager. Both parents are in their mid- to late-40s.
Father – Roger, Mother – Anne, Sister – Lydia
Nathaniel – the MMC that the story is centered around, close friends and romantic interest of FMC though he was not aware of the fact; Penelope – FMC’s very self-centered best friend; Scott – Penny’s husband
When she was alive (because she actually dies just prior to the events in the novel), she was an interior decorator (I think, though that might change) and also dabbled in photography like her mother. She was a very compassionate and caring individual, very nurturing. She was, despite outward appearances that claimed otherwise, a very sad and lonely girl.
Literary Fiction

When I’m naming contemporary characters, I take some influence from the character’s personality and background and mix it with my personal experience. Here I noted that the mother is an avid reader of Romances and that the sister is named Lydia. I decided to offer another Jane Austen name for this character, along with other names I felt could fit for this lonely and artistic young woman.

My Reply to the Writer

  • Katherine (Kitty or Kit): Pride and Prejudice reference
  • Naomi
  • Abigail (Abs)
  • Lizette
  • Monica

The writer replied: Thanks so much for this. I had actually considered Katherine before, but I think this just cemented the idea. I really appreciate the help.

Maybe this writer is also a Jane Austen fan, or maybe I just stumbled on a name that fit her sensibilities. I do find it interesting how names can resonate with people for different reasons.

Name Theory: Giving Thanks for the Vision

Sometimes I am blind. I don’t see what is right in front of me on the page. I read my words and I don’t see glaring mistakes, or I don’t see where I haven’t written enough for the reader to see what I see, or what have you.

Writers are too close to their own work, and it is too alive for them to be completely objective. Writers need to rely on others to help them discern where they need to work on their work—whether those others be editors, crit partners, or people who comment on what they have posted online.

Be thankful for the “vision” of readers. Be thankful for their suggestions and opinions. Be thankful for their desire to help.

Every reader’s opinion matters, to an extent.

I am thankful for the woman who kept trying to change the “voice” of my writing, because she also pointed out some glaring mistakes that others didn’t—things that I would not have seen on my own.

I am thankful for the woman who gets all flustered at my suggestions, but does the same for me. Her questions make me think about my story in a new way, and will help my rewrites lead to a more effective story.

I am thankful for the wonderful writer and dedicated editor of her own work who inspires me by her example, and by her keep no darlings attitude. I don’t always agree with her, but I always respect her.

I am thankful for anyone who listens to me drone on about my writing, my characters, my plot, and my process. I love you all for it.

To you and yours: Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Thanksgivukkah.