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.

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.
Paranormal

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.

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: Name-Build Skill

Even through my protestation that I am not good a creating names, did you notice the name variation I stumbled upon in this week’s naming?

I didn’t notice it myself until I was writing the blog post.

Julious.

That’s not the name I meant to write. I meant to write Julius, and my twisted spelling happened to be a different pronunciation and thereby a variation on the name.

Accidentally.

On purpose it can be more difficult to create names that are easy to read, easily pronounceable, believable, consistent (with the other names used), and NOT already a real name somewhere.

This week’s writer had a bit of a gift for it.

Elaenine is pretty clearly a variation on Elaine, and a very pretty Fantasy variation it is.

Ennilfeth is probably a much less clear variation on Jennifer, but interesting nonetheless.

Mannurnon seems as though it is a cross between Mannur (a boy’s name of unknown meaning) and Manon (a girl’s name). It sounds male, and strong, and perfect for a Steampunk King.

As with many Fantasy names, these tend to be long and a bit complicated (still readable, though), as short and simple names sound less fantastical and tend to be more likely to already exist as names.

Creating names takes a bit of creativity, some style, and a lot of determination. You must use sounds from “real” names and put them together in a logical way that will sound believable to readers, but the name has to remain something hitherto unknown.

If you write Fantasy, if you world build, name creation is a skill that you ought to develop for yourself. No one else will be able to create just the right name for your world as you will. Certainly, the best I was able to do was recreate the variation Julious (one of my best name creations, I am sad to admit). I bet you could do better than that!

Character of the Week: Story Girl Names

In honor of the beginning of NaNoWriMo later this week, I’ve chosen this story-telling character.

The Writer Describes the Character

Female, 16
Born and raised in the medieval-ish fantasy capital city of Llin (Fantasy realm with no set time frame at the moment). She is part of a noble family.
Her parents are conservative and are politicians.
Family names: Mother: Imogen; Father: unnamed; Little sister: Maela; Love interest: Kaden
Other characters she interacts with: Rea Kelendor, Aeronwy Kelendor, Astrid, Gale, Claudia.
Career: Student (at that time) Characteristics: She is a very motherly and protective girl, extremely so to her little sister. She would tell stories to her sister, inadvertently leading her sister to running away from home to see the world. She is often in her own world and likes storms.
Genre: Fantasy

For this Fantasy girl, I focused on finding names that I felt went with those the writer had already chosen. I liked this writer’s names, I liked the sound of them and how they were mostly lesser used names that had a romantic yet not frilly feel to them. I wanted to honor that style of names while offering my suggestions for this motherly older sister.

My Reply to the Writer

  • Talitha
  • Freya
  • Taryn
  • Fern
  • Carys

The writer didn’t reply to me, so I don’t know what name she chose for this story-telling girl. I do hope the perfect name was found, and the perfect story told.

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.

Character of the Week: Alternate Universe French Names

This will be a long post because the writer asked me for four names. (Watch how “three” names will get the writer started, but a fourth request is snuck in later.)

The Writer Describes the Character

I need a few names, but three will get me started, if you don’t mind.

Male, 21
Born in an Alternate Universe France, called Kryta, basically an amalgamation of all European nations, Eastern and Western. Medieval with a modernized spin, i.e. swords are still used but guns and explosives are also used.
Parents: I don’t have names for them. Nobles, advisers to the Queen of Kryta. Vampires.
Siblings: Three younger siblings, one older. Younger are Sorin Markov, Sylvanas Markov, and Aliera Markov, (m,f,f, respectively) older sister unknown.
Interacts with: Jenara Tirel, Elspeth Tirel, noble families
Career: Noble
Characteristics: Arrogant, pompous, dark, intelligent, devious
Fantasy

Female, 23
Siblings: Sorin Markov, Sylvanas Markov, Aliera Markov, and the aforementioned character.
Career: Noble’s daughter, heir to the Markov family
Characteristics: Dark, confident, sly, mysterious, subtle, dangerous, rarely loses control of her emotions, violent, domineering.
Fantasy

Male, 20
Born in Japan, now lives with Markov family in Kryta. Markov family brought him in at age 19.
Siblings by birth: Synthia Chatagi, Liliana Chatagi, Huntre Chatagi, all younger (f,f,m respectively).
Love interest: Nameless female character above
Career: Main antagonist. Practices witchcraft, blood magic.
Characteristics: Controlling, angry, dark, pompous, arrogant, egocentric, vengeful
Fantasy

For this last guy, if at all possible, I would like two names, his birth name in the Chatagi family, and his name under the Markov family.

My style is simple. How to name a character in an alternate France? Use French names. By this way you show the connection to France every time a character is mentioned without having to use any forced description or narrative.

I did allow myself more flair in naming the “Japanese” character, as his siblings did not have Japanese names. The alternate spelling of two of the siblings’ names inspired me to come up with creative names for that character.

I am very proud of the “fourth” name, the French name for the Japanese character. He might have gotten to choose his “given” name, so I looked at name meanings for the first names. I am, however, happier with my choice to offer an alternate to the last name. While the character is part of the family, he is only recently “brought in” and not really one of them, so he only gets to be “of” the Markov family.

My Reply to the Writer

  • Rhone
  • Thibaut
  • Aramis
  • Berenger
  • Talbot
  • Oriana
  • Vienna
  • Anais
  • Raissa
  • Tempest
  • Kanyen Chatagi
  • Gallett Chatagi
  • Tannre Chatagi
  • Taniel Chatagi
  • Rogan Chatagi
  • Lyle DeMarkov: Island
  • Maurice DeMarkov: Dark
  • Sumner DeMarkov: Summoner
  • Travers DeMarkov: At the crossing
  • Delmar DeMarkov: Of the sea

The writer replied: Thank you so much, you just made my life a lot easier. I decided to go with Aramis, Raissa, Kanyen, and Maurice.

I didn’t mind when writers, like this one, asked me to name more than one character—it gave me the opportunity to use complimentary names that “fit” into a naming style—however, I sometimes felt like they should have let my suggestions for one character inspire them to name the rest. It’s like they robbed themselves of the chance to learn from my process and then practice it for themselves.

Name Theory: Six Degrees of Character Naming

This writer for whom I named a character this week could have found the same name in several ways. This is a phenomenon I’ve seen several times. I call it Six Degrees of Character Naming.

Six Degrees of Separation, an offshoot of Small World Theory, claims that everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away by introduction to any other person. In my version, every writer is six or fewer steps away from the perfect character name, and has only to find the right chain to that name.

The six degrees theory also allows for several chains or paths to the final goal—in this case a character name.

In this week’s instance:

The writer sought help on a forum and found my postàthe writer asked me for helpàI searched on the SSA’s Baby Names listàI found names that fit the writer’s styleàI contacted the writer with my suggestionsàthe writer found the character’s name on my list.

For the name that this writer chose, we could have followed another path to the same name—Orion.

For example, as I mentioned on Monday I could have searched for “Cat Names” on 20,000 Names and found that name listed, and then offered it to the writer. Or, I could have searched for “Cat Names” on Yahoo! and found one of several lists that had Orion as a suggestion (since Orion was a hunter, just as cats are hunters).

Or the path the writer followed could have been completely different, such as:

The writer seeks help with character namingàthe writer asks friends and family for name suggestionsàthe writer’s mother offers a list of names including the name of her cat from long agoàthe writer notices that the cat’s name, Rye, is the perfect nickname for this characteràthe writer searches online for names that have Rye as a nicknameàthe writer finds and choses Orion.

Many paths leading to one destination: The name the writer feels is perfect for the character.

Often my path to character names involves doing research for the book and finding the name on a website, or looking at lists of names and creating a character for one of them. The key is to make sure that you notice the names you see, rather than waiting until you need a name and then stressing over not remembering any good ones.

Names are all around you. Follow a path and find the right one for your character.

Name Theory: These Names be Cray

Articles about celebrities and their “crazy” or “branded” babies’ names are once again abounding. Not only do I dislike these articles for their negativity, but I disagree with their premise.

I don’t think celebrities are much more likely to give their children interesting names than the general public. In fact, I’ve seen names worse than Apple (which I don’t hate) and North West (which I happen to think is only slightly silly) on regular people’s kids. In fact, all of those football players with interesting names that I referred to on Monday were named by regular people.

I think the real and on-going story is that many people want to give their children interesting and rare choices, just as many writers want to give their characters interesting and rare choices. It is a natural extension of our independent spirit.

There are plusses and minuses to this way of thinking, to this way of naming. My purpose here is not to review those arguments.

My purpose here is to reiterate that writers can find inspiration in character naming from the way in which parents name their children.

Just as I considered how the father of the characters in this week’s naming would have chosen their names, writers can consider how their character’s parents would choose their names.

Would these character parents:

  • Want strong sounding names?
  • Want nature names?
  • Want names with a certain meaning?
  • Want names with family connection?
  • Want names that “fit in” or “stand out”?
  • Want names that are funny?
  • Want names that are tease-proof?
  • Want names that start with a certain letter?

There are many characteristics that parents consider when naming their children now-a-days, and these characteristics could well serve writers looking to name their literary babies.

Character of the Week: Infant Names

The Social Security Administration released the baby name data for 2012 last week, and the name nerds blew up all over the Internet. I thought I’d play follow the leader, and post about baby naming character style.

The Writer Describes the Character

Ever tried to name a character that’s an infant for the entire story? It’s been bugging me for days. By the time story finishes, he’s only a year and a half old and he’s born during the story.

Male, under-2, Contemporary
He was born in Boston, Mass., to Jonathan Windsor, a half-werewolf slave trader who gets killed somewhere along the line, and Pagie Ortman, a human slave who is way too attracted to the bad-boy types.
He’s the first born but he’s likely to have younger half siblings, one of whom will be named either Becca or Buffy. (Won’t use bot names, I promise.)
Other characters in the story include: Eloise, Ashley, Reid, a ghost named Mrs. Green, and Mr. Walton.
He just so happens to have not inherited the werewolf gene, so he’s basically a human. He’s a happy little thing, very bouncy and chubby and looks more like his mom than his dad.

Paranormal

While I had never before named a character who never grew up, I had named characters who didn’t age. One thing I take into account when naming is if the name feels appropriate for a character that age. For an infant character, I thought the name I chose should sound baby-ish and lend itself to being cooed. I also limited myself to names that are in popular use in Massachusetts.

My Reply to the Writer

I’ve never had to name an infant character, but I also haven’t had to do a lot of the kind of naming I’ve been doing. Naming is one part research, one part knowledge, one part intuition, mixed well. An infant will want a short name, preferably with a cutesy ending sound (e.g. “eye” or “ee”). Naming an infant girl would be easier because there are many cutesy girl names. Naming a boy you have to find the right sweet spot of cute without sounding too girly, and there aren’t many choices. Remember to say these in a sing-song voice to try them out.

  • Charlie
  • Eli
  • Lukas
  • Ryland
  • Grady

This writer never replied to me, so I don’t know if one of these names was chosen or if the writer used my advice to use a short and cutesy sounding name. I still like that naming convention for an infant character who will not grow up (literally and literarily).