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.

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Name Theory: Aspirational Fantasy Names

It’s always important to consider all of your fantasy character’s names as a whole. Having a similar style of name will help your characters feel like a culture within the world of their novel.

The last two weeks I have featured fantasy Royalists’ names. These characters had parents who were involved with the royal houses of their lands, and who respected and looked-up to these royals. As the song Royals says, “we’ll never be royals” and yet “I’m in love with being Queen.” Many people aspire to be like Royals, either the actual regal kind or the Hollywood version.

Baby name aficionados give a lot of flak to so-called “Aspirational” names, those like Lexus and Armani which are obviously lux brands, but they often fail to recognize that many names are aspirational at their core.

Yes, lower class people will name their children after brands and stores that they aspire to acquire from, hence the past popularity of the name Tiffany. But upper class people also give their children “Aspirational” names too—only theirs are often “family” names such as the father’s name (junior) or the mother’s surname, or some other family name that may signify that the child is connected to a famous and/or wealthy family and that the parents expect the child to follow in that tradition of fame and fortune.

Fictional Royalists would, like their real counterparts, consider granting their children names that are related to the royal family.

In last week’s naming I chose names that were frilly and “princess” sounding, since that story sounded more fairy tale-ish. In this week’s naming I went with names that were strong and British without being too traditional, so the character would remain slightly set apart from his royal peers.

In each case I considered names that might be related to the royal family of that land, names that the character’s parents might have chosen in honor of a royal descendant, names that were slightly aspirational.

History and research is important to historical novels, but the fictional history of fantasy novels is just as important. Having a history, and a reasoning behind name and other culture choices, will make any fantasy novel stronger. Consider your character’s aspirations, and how those might affect their fictional babies names.

Character of the Week: 1980s Preschooler Names

As my own preschooler is in his last two weeks before starting kindergarten, I thought I should write some of my thoughts on children’s names this week.

The Writer Describes the Character

Female, 4 at the beginning of the story (born in the early 1980s)

She was raised in a small, close suburban neighborhood in the Midwest. Not country, but not crime-riddled either.

Parents are very minor characters. Mostly uninterested, suburban parents. They think she’s more of a ‘strange child’ than anything else.

The parents will probably remain unnamed. Only child. 

Named characters so far: Mallory and Melody, twins that are her best friends as a child. 

She’s brown haired and brown eyed. Blind. Able to see things beyond what is actually there. Possibly a “Firestarter” type of girl, who may be able to make things happen just by wishing they would. Loner, but is not socially challenged. Her other senses are very heightened due to be being born without sight.

Genre: I’m going with Horror/Supernatural. But nothing modern.

When seeking names for this ‘80s child, I focused on names that were similar in style to the twins—that is, on names that were typically ‘80s. I did, as usual, seek a name that was less popular than her friends’ names.

My Reply to the Writer

  • Darci
  • Caryn
  • Lia
  • Lora
  • Alice

The writer replied: Thank you for coming up with these names for me. I really appreciate the time and effort. Unfortunately, I decided on the name Beth. I was leaning towards using Alice, but the more I thought about it, the more it smacked of weird little Goth girls. Not that it’s a bad name. Just didn’t want my character to be portrayed incorrectly. Thanks again and Happy Writing!

As I looked for less common names than those the writer chose for this character’s friends, I think the writer was looking for more common names. Since this is a paranormal/horror kind of story, it is natural that the writer would use a “normal” name to help ground the readers in reality.

Name Theory: Names Revisited

In naming, as in life, sometimes you wish you could have a do-over. I don’t plan to re-contact the writer of this week’s character, but I want to show you my new thinking on naming Regency characters, even if they are Fantasy Regency characters.

If I were a Historical novelist, I would do a lot of research to find names that were in use at the time, and to avoid names that were too well-known. While I have read that Jane Austen used names that referenced real people, she was writing social commentary of her time. Modern writers should go for references that modern readers will connect to.

I have also read that Austen may have chosen names that sounded like the kind of character she was writing (Knightly as the Knight in shining armor). While I don’t usually recommend this type of naming, I admit that for a mixed genre story that seems somewhat referential to other works referential names may be in order.

While this character will need a Christian name (what they would have called a given name in the Regency period), I think her surname should be chosen first since she will mostly be called Miss Surname throughout the story. I also think that by keeping the Historical parts of the novel accurate, the Fantasy parts will seem even more fantastic.

My new recommended names for this character are:

  • Miss Hewie: Meaning Heart/Mind/Spirit
  • Miss Baines: Meaning Bone/Leg or Strait/Direct or Bath
  • Miss Godwin: Referencing Gothic writer Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley nee Godwin
  • Miss Hartwell: Meaning the place where deer drink, symbolically meaning full of love
  • Miss Ember: Meaning Spark, and a reference to Austen’s Emma (who this character reminds me of)

I am much happier with my new choices for this character, and I’m happy to be putting together my thoughts on Regency names. As I learn more about that era, I wonder if I will discover a Regency Historical novel in me.

Or maybe I’ll just put my thoughts on the Regency into a new blog.

Character of the Week: English Regency Miss Names

This is yet another character in search of a genre. Gothic Romance, perhaps?

The Writer Describes the Character

Female, about 18 years old in the 1790s or early 1800s 

She lives in the Southern English countryside. Her father owns a very small piece of land—he is a gentleman, but of small fortune. Her mother comes from a wealthier family. 

Other characters: Henry Taylor is a love interest; Mary and Anne are her sisters; her parents are John and Anne; her cousins are Charles and Louisa; her frenemy is Isabella; and her good friend is Eleanor or Caroline (Also undecided on that name!). She also interacts with Elizabeth and Edward, distant family members. 

She is stubborn, individualistic, believes herself to be better and smarter than everyone else, but she has a loving heart, and cares deeply for those dear to her. She is brave and will stand up for what she believes to be right. Oh—and she can see ghosts. 

Historical Fiction / Fantasy / Romance (I’m all over the place!) 

Today I would name this character differently. Today I know more than I did a few years ago.

With this character I tried to look up names from that time in English history, but (this is sad to admit) I did not realize that this time period was Georgian Era (AKA Regency Era in terms of fashion). I am now learning more about this era, the fashion, the manners, and Miss Jane Austen’s writings in particular. Now I would probably suggest that this writer choose surnames first, since those were more in use than Christian names for most people in that era.

My Reply to the Writer

Period accurate names beyond Mary or Elizabeth.

  • Augusta
  • Susannah
  • Amalia
  • Virginia
  • Sophie

This writer did not get back to me about the name chosen, but I don’t mind since I wish I could do this naming all over again. That’s how things go with writing: You make choices, you do your best on a deadline, and then you have to let go. Unless you actually get a chance to do it all over again.

 

Character of the Week: Medieval Fantasy Steampunk Rebel Names

Even this writer isn’t sure what genre her story should be in, but she knew what she was looking for in a name.

The Writer Describes the Character

Male, 19 (was born about April 19th, using our calendar)
He lives in a sort of primeval “time before time” which resembles bits and pieces of European history from the late middle ages to the early 1900s. He was born in the slums of the capital city, Ilmatar, and though he and his father had a relatively nice house, they were still firmly in the lower classes.
His mother was a prostitute, and his father, Rhett, was not a client, but his mother’s live-in boyfriend at the time. They don’t know who the biological father is, but Rhett doesn’t care; the child is his in spirit. Rhett was originally a travelling merchant, but set up a permanent shop in Ilmatar, and eventually came to head a revolution against the crown.
Rhett wanted him to stay safe and run his shop, but they both knew that wouldn’t happen. He minds the shop occasionally, but spends most his time drinking and smoking, though he has an acute interest in the upcoming rebellion, which intensifies as the story progresses. He has very tan skin, light-brown hair, and gray eyes. His last name is Faulkner.
Names of other characters: Savanna (girlfriend), Rhett Faulkner (father), Shannon (kid sister), Nalren (crown prince), Jay (best friend), Cyra (godmother), Garrick (other friend), Elsia (princess), Mae (princess), Levona (queen), Angvre (king), Hazine (Nalren’s girlfriend), Jepp (incompetent palace guard).
Not quite Fantasy, but cutting pretty close

The story is not fantasy-based, but it is set in a make-believe world. It would be best for naming and promotional purposes if this story could be changed to fit in a genre (maybe Steampunk?), but I’ll work with what I’m given. I’m just glad this writer gave me so many of the other characters names to look to for style.

I looked at Medieval names for this character, but then resorted to looking for names from different sources that matched the style of some of the other names. All of these names, save Angvre, are real names, so they gave me an idea of what the writer was looking for in terms of feel and origin.

My Reply to the Writer

  • Edric Faulkner
  • Phineas Faulkner
  • Korbin Faulkner
  • Lachlan Faulkner
  • Harper Faulkner

The writer replied: His name is now Hedrick; I combined Harper and Edric. I also enjoy how it stems from a translation of “Ivy.” There’s a particular song about ivy that I listen to that I’m sure he would hate.

This writer knew what she wanted, and she created it! By looking at the sounds in the names I suggested, she discovered the name that suited her character.

Name Theory: Mythology, Terminology, and the Rise of the Sidhe Peoples

I have often capitulated to the fact that in the Fantasy genre in particular, readers will expect (and perhaps even desire) names with meaning; however, as I stated on Monday, I think this may be leading to a plethora of like-named characters.

I’ve pointed this out with my posts on werewolf naming and the names Luna and Remus in particular, but I want to spread the warning.

Fantasy writers like to read history, mythology, fairy tales, and folklore, and they often infuse these into their stories. This can be good and interesting and add a certain depth to the writing. The problem is, writers are all studying the same root material.

So a folklore story is read and enjoyed, and the writer decides to let it inspire their next work. To make the inspiration clear, or to add meaning, the writer uses names and terms from the folklore and infuses them into their work.

This is all great. This is interesting. This is like when writers in other genres use the Bible or Shakespeare for inspiration.

However, names from the Bible and Shakespeare are often more widely used, and less specific to character. So, although there can be problems with too many writers using certain names (for Heaven’s sake, do not use Adam or Eve or any derivation for the first of any type of person in writing ever again!), usually the names are not too overused in writing.

Fantasy writers are having this problem more and more often, though. While their inspiration can run from any folklore or fairy tale, they generally tend to follow “taste” and take inspiration from a relatively few sources.

This is why in the last few months I’ve read two stories that referred to Sidhe peoples. This is a term that I never heard before, in part because I have not read Irish mythology, but as Irish mythology has become “a thing” I expect to see this name more and more.

Granted, these stories use the term for different sorts of characters. And, granted, one of the stories only used the term and did not seem to use other related details. Still, just the very use of this very unusual term (which I had in the first instance assumed was “invented”) was enough to distract me while I am reading the second story (which is heavily influenced by Irish mythology).

I don’t know if I can get to the point in reading this story that the term, Sidhe, will not confound me in some way (even in just a minor twinge). I strongly associate it with the first book in which I read the term and I “see” those characters when I read it. This is not fair to the second book, but it is the truth.

It is a truth I hope you will learn from. I think using mythology is wonderful for inspiration, and I think it can afford opportunities for the writer to infuse the story with Easter eggs for those readers “in the know.” Still, I think writers need to be judicious in their use of names and terms from popular mythologies—for the sake of the readers and for the sake of the writing.