Friday, August 5, 2011

What is in a Name?

As I approach the end of the first draft of my current project, I'm trying to decide which of the many stories bouncing around in my head I want to work on next. I've narrowed it down to three. Why those ones, you ask? Well, because I've already decided on the main characters' names.

That is always the most challenging part of starting a new story for me--finding the perfect name. It has to fit the character just right--like a favorite part of well worn jeans. For example, you can't name a rough tough, motorcyclist, who eats barbed wire for breakfast Eugene Smithee. It just wouldn't fit.

I had this problem with my second novel. I just couldn't think of a name for my main character so I decided to just stick a name in there and start writing. When I was halfway through, I finally thought of the perfect name. But when I went to change it, I just couldn't! I mean, she was Emily now. That's what everyone knew her by. I couldn't give her an identity crisis! So I left the name and I think that is part of the reason I can't stand that story anymore.

My poor future husband... I'm going to be one of those people who put "Baby" down on my childrens' birth certificates until I can think of the perfect name. Probably by the time they are about to enter kindergarten. Maybe I'll leave the child naming up to him... Save my children that sort of emotional abuse.

Anyway, here are some useful tools I use to help me pick the perfect character name!
  • Building Believable Character by Marc McCutcheon. Actually, this book is fantastic for just about anything character related. It has huge lists of hair-styles, eye colors, personality types, flaws, phobias and illnesses you can give your character. It even has a section on accents and lists a few words and phrases from different cultures. But in the very back are lists of common first and last names from different countries. I especially like it for interesting last names.
  • The Hidden Truth of You Name from The Nomenology Project. It breaks down names into their runic and numerological meanings, describing people with the name. Okay, so I don't really believe in runes or anything, but its pretty interesting. It even tells you where the name came from and lists unique spellings and nicknames for each name.
  • this website is especially useful when you're looking for a name appropriate for a certain year between 1879 and now. Like if you want to give great-grandma an authentic name for her time.
  • This is a name generator site called Serendipity. This comes in handy when you're looking for something a little different. Like French, Japanese, Medieval, and Trendy names. There are also generators for villains, royalty and gnomes. This site also has some other handy generators like the Chinese Resturant name generator, Fantasy Novel Titles, and much more! Sometimes I even use this site when I have writer's block! Just click a few random generators and use the info you get to write a short story. Its really a great tool!
  • Next time you're at a movie, stay in your seats and watch the credits roll with a pen and paper handy. Its the perfect cornucopia for unusual names! Also, if I'm not writing or reading, I'm most likely watching a movie, so its a good source for me.
  • If you happen to be walking through a cemetery, look around at the different headstones. There are tons of great names here too. I may or may not go to the nearby cemetery just for this reason...
Anyway, I hope I gave you guys some really great places to find perfect names for your characters! Or whatever else you may find! Have fun!



julie fedderson said...

I think character names are so important. There's such a glut of similar sounding names in certain genres--I love it when someone comes up with something creative, as long as it is less than 6 syllables, lol.

Angie Cothran said...

I do the credit name thing too. Although I've never done it for character names just kids names.

Jenna Blake Morris said...

I know what you mean about changing a character's name -- I accidentally had a character with the same name as my cousin. I didn't want him to think the character was based off of him, because he's arrogant enough, but I couldn't change the character's name. It would just feel...wrong. So if my cousin ever asks, I'll just have to tell him not to flatter himself, and hope for the best. Great post!

Deana said...

Gah! Names kill me. I seriously take up hours trying to figure them out sometimes and then I put them down and if I want to change them. Oh well, I just can't because I've invested to darn much time.

Katrina L. Lantz said...

Wow, those look like great resources! Thank you! I wonder if a bad name is why my last MC gave me such a hard time finding her voice. Maybe she was just peeved about her flowery name.

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