Friday, April 13, 2007

On Writing ~ What's in a Name?


Hubby and I were having a convo about marketing recently and he suggested I run a contest and the winner's name becomes that of the hero/heroine in my next book.
No, I said too quickly. A secondary character maybe, but a main character, no way.
But, says he, it would be a far more attractive prize to have your name attached to the mains (or something to that effect...)
Absolutely not! Won't happen. A main character's name is far too important to the story. What if it doesn't fit?

He couldn't understand this - Your a writer... It's all imagination anyway, was his argument.
I insisted this was a ridiculous notion because I don't name my main characters, they name themselves!

I wasn't exaggerating. My characters are alive in my head. They have names of their own, voices of their own and to change their names would betray them as characters. I didn't name Ellis, the heroine in Destiny by Design. To be honest, I don't even really like the name. Especially for a girl. But that was her name, it suits her personality and try as I might (and I did!), no other name would do her justice. I did give her a last name, Strathmore, and I'm not sure I nailed it. I should have gone with my gut and gave her a good ethnic sounding name.
Meanwhile, the villainess, Cynthia Travers, named herself as well. I felt kind of bad about this because I have a cousin named Cindy and she's a charming, lovely woman. Aw hell, let's be honest here... I have issues with her going back to her perfect, shiny childhood.
Oh, shit! Did I write that out loud?


I've had a novel wip kicking around for years (and I do mean YEARS). One of my nastier characters is called David. This poses a wee problem in that my brother-in-law is named David, but I'd never want him or anyone else to think that my bad guy is based on my him. Get me? Cause he's soooo not. My David has lived in my head far longer than the sil-bil marriage.
But the fact that my dear bil is a bit of a tool doesn't help, either.
Oops, there I go again!


My question for fellow writers: Does anyone get this or are y'all backing slowly away from your computer. Before you delete me from your blogroll, please tell me -- do your characters name themselves, too? Do you just pick them based on what's-hot-at-the-moment-as-long-as-its-not-Britney-or-Paris?
Amy Ruttan, are any of your heroes named Gerard, by any chance :) ??
Susan, how do you know a good rock-star name when you hear one? Does it have to sound modern or radical, or can a rockin' drummer be named Walter?

Come on y'all -- spill your secrets for coming up with perfect names...


PS *** Am I violating copyright laws by posting that comic? I found it floating on the web...***

13 comments:

Leah Braemel said...

My characters name themselves to a certain degree - with historicals there are certain names that the upper class wouldn't use, they'd be more for the lower classes, BUT the characters will object if I choose a name for them they don't like.

I have one hero that is named Thomas - personally I don't care for the name because I have a snotty brother-in-law with that name. And heaven forbid that BIL (or hubby) might think I find him remotely romantic. *shudders* But the character insisted that was his name and though I've tried others it keeps coming back to his choice.

*whispers so Thomas won't hear* Although to be honest, I may still duke him out about it because it bugs me a LOT.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Ooh, you mention me by name! I'm flattered! *grin*

(so freaking simple, am I...)

Anyway, I'd have to investigate further to answer you about the copyright law, or there's a literary agent who also works in entertainment law. Might not be a bad way to meet her...

Seriously. Sure, you could have a rock star named Walter! In fact, I think I'll create him, in your honor. Right now, I have mechanics named Torque, Hammer, and Wrench, and a guitar tech named Cookie. Cookie?

You are right and your husband is wrong, of course. Characters name themselves, especially the loud, larger-than-life ones (Trevor Wolff not excluded). Characters ARE their names, just as we are. I mean, Wylie, what if you were named Winona? You'd be someone different altogether.

Names define us. They determine if we're cool (Rocky) or a nerd (Eugene) or a priss (Priscilla, of course!).

And that's how I pick my names, by and large. I go through a very old baby book, or I surf online for baby naming sites and find one that has the SOUND I'm looking for. I start out with a rough idea of a character and pick a name with a sound that works. The name and the rough idea then work together to create a naif named Mitchell, or a savvier-than-though bassist named... of course, Trevor Wolff.

Hope that helps; if not pop back into my inbox and I'll try to dig deeper for you.

Christine said...

My babies name themselves. I usually have a character sketch in mind and then I begin to troll babynames.com for ideas. One will jump out at me, usually after a few minutes. And that's it - they own that name. In face, I can reuse names, even from stories that will never see the light of day. I associate them too much with that name.

Crazy.

Vicky said...

Oh... I couldn't agree with you more Wylie! We don't name them - they name themselves... yes, maybe we scroll through lists of names and in my case Mafia criminals, but we know exactly what were looking for... we just don't know it until we find it! :)

Once their named it's next to impossible for me to change it. I once did with my last WIP and ended up calling him by the previous name ALL THE TIME anyways. So I just gave up the fight and went back to the original name!

I don't know about that contest either... not unless you created a character around that name... not the other way around. Secondary characters are good enough! Good luck!

Amy Ruttan said...

I don't think one of my characters will ever be named Gerard. Though I like a lot of qualities of GB, I don't think one could be named thusly.

They do name themselves. Especially in my first book Enemy Enchantress, Alfwyn came into my head fully formed. I mean I've never heard of Alfwyn before but I could never change his name.

I do pick names for secondary characters, like Wylie in Journey, but it totally suits that character that came and introduced herself to me.

A contest to name a secondary character for sure is ok, not main. Characters are people and I don't think they would appreciate their name being the object of a contest.

Ok, now I sound like a schizo or something. Must go to bed.

If I didn't make any sense I agree with you.

This Eclectic Life said...

OK, I'm "technically" not a writer(not published), but I've been telling stories for 20 years. The stories I tell I do write. The characters name themselves, in fact the story itself dictates to me how it should be told. Some folks who have heard me tell say that all of my stories are so different from each other. Well, duh.
I'm with you on naming the characters. Don't have a contest to get a name!

Thomma Lyn said...

Great post, Wylie! And yup, characters name themselves, no doubt about it. I keep a file of names that strike me, wherever or however I might run across them: if I like the name and it suggests something to me, I'll save it in my file. Often when I have a character brewing, I scan my file of names and the character grabs me by the throat and yells, "NAME ME THIS!" But if that doesn't happen, I'll get the name some other way -- usually I'll hear or see a name and my character screams "Hey, writer-type person: THAT'S ME!"

I tend to like unusual names, particularly for my protagonists. Can you imagine Romilly named Mary? ;-) (not that anything's wrong with Mary.) They have to have a certain sound that fits my protagonist's personality, whether overtly or subtly so.

A naming contest sounds okay, but I agree with you -- it would absolutely need to be for a very minor, secondary character, not a major one. The names of the majors are just too important and there's too much nuance to their naming to just slap any ol' name on them.

Wylie Kinson said...

Leah - those BIL's do pop up in the most annoying way!

Susan - I mentioned you by name because your characters are specific, and we all have a certain preconceived notion about rockstars, don't we?
Love Cookie! Makes you wonder at the story behind the name!!

TL - we must have had this conversation before (or I'm beginning to read your mind) 'cause the naming of Romilly, Earnest and the good Rev. Farge seems to be floating around my memory somewhere...
And Uncle Carl, of course!!

Amy, Vicky, Christine, -- all of you...
Thanks for weighing in on the subject. Seems we're all in agreement. Characters name themselves and no contest can ever change our minds. So there!

*slipping out of straight jacket to embrace my 'normalcy'* :)

Nicholas said...

I make up all my characters' names. I am in charge of absolutely everything in my books! I do like to devise unusual but credible names, and for some reason, in both novels, I have invented several surnames beginning with the letter G (Glapes, Grimfield, Giddington, Gravely). But with your permission, I'll be delighted to name one of the characters in my next novel Wylie!

Wylie Kinson said...

LOL NIcholas!! We know who wear's the pants in your head :)
And 'G' names, imo, are 'weighty'. They somehow have more credibility than vowelish names or 'L' names, don't you think?
As for naming a character Wylie, well... that would please me beyond words, but keep in mind, Amy Ruttan has a brothel owner in Kathmandu named after me... can you top that?
Thanks for sharing your secrets.
Cheers!

Anonymous said...

Since my names are all fantasy names, sometimes it's very hard, as I have to come up with both character names and place names. I use obscure ancient king lists, old documents, maps, etc. and simply borrow or alter the names I find there. Sometimes I'll see a name in real life and add or subtract a few letters, and come up with something.

L.E. Bryce

Wylie Kinson said...

Hey L.E. Bryce! Thanks for visiting my blog.

Yes - I can see that writing fantasy, futuristic or historical characters would pose a challenge when it comes to names. For historical, obviously research would need to be done, but you have to seriously put your imagination to work. Have you read JR Ward's Black Dagger series? I found the h-names a bit ridiculous at first, but after a while, they grew on me. I would think your method of obsure ancient kings and maps is pure genius!

And Nicholas -- I didn't even think to ask what genre you write. Well??

Rebecca said...

Hello Wylie,

saw your comments over on Rhian's blog and they made me laugh. Perhaps you could have a contest where the entrants have to think of the most creative thing to do with a useless bookmark?

And, yes, your husband totally does NOT understand. No way could the main character's name be decided by a contest win. NO WAY.