Friday, 17 January 2014

What's her name?

When it comes to naming character, I'm terrible.  I could tell you all sorts of things about my characters.  I could even tell you all about their great-grandparents. But ask me their name?  I'll draw a blank.

So, I've got a few tools I rely on to name my characters:

Names with Meaning.  I love raiding foreign languages for translated words that match a characteristic of a character.  I've got to put some thought into it, however, because some translations are painfully obvious; calling a character Estupido leaves nothing to the imagination. Lord Malheur is somewhat of an improvement.  How about Mor-Lath?

Some useful tools:   Babelfish, Google Translate and Bing Translator.

Historically Accurate Names.  When I write Regency Romance or Alternate History, I strive to make my names common to the period. Having a name that is uncharacteristic of the period makes it difficult for readers to suspend their disbelief. Even going for a very untraditional spelling can shake the illusion you're trying to create.

Where to find what names were popular when: Baby Name Wizard Voyager, but be careful or you might be drawn in to the Research Trap.

Addendum:  If writing about a specific geographic area, try to stick with names that fit that geographical area.  Don't stick a Juan in Russia or a Matai in England, unless you've got a really, really plausible reason for it.  Until the end of the 20th Century, geography really mattered.

Oh, look! Popular Baby Names in New South Wales.

Anecdote:  I had a character in a village once. She had a rather unusual name that didn't fit with anyone else's; a couple of characters remarked on it. Turns out, her father was from somewhere else, and this was a family name he'd brought with him.

Borrow a Name.  If a character of mine reminds me of someone, I have no shame in borrowing their name (or a close approximation).  So if you see a character featuring your name, be flattered. Unless, of course I don't like you.  Then woe betide your pathetic, doomed character.  I've even changed characters names because I met someone unpleasant who shared a name with them.

Where to find such names?  Your old high school yearbook, your Outlook Address Book at work or your Facebook page.

Throw a Dart.  AKA "I Feel Lucky" aka googling words associated with the idea of my story and take the first name that shows up in the list.  It's random, but it works, if a character's name doesn't have to be anything special.

Baby Name Books.  What writer hasn't perused their pages?  Many a writer has a copy of baby names on their research shelf next to a Rhyming Dictionary, "The Artist's Way" and "On Writing".  Obviously.
Sometimes it's important to me to have a character name right away, or a name will suggest itself. Other times, nothing's striking my fancy.  I'm not above naming a character SSS or MMM as a placeholder until I can come up with a better name.

Sometimes these placeholders morph into the character's name.  I have a King Wasson.  He's the Son of Wacifice.  And Wacifice got his name from What's His Face. Yeah. Real imaginative.

On the whole, Her Grace considers names important.  After all, she did spend many formative years being called 'Emily', and once comforted a young girl who was sick of being called 'Twin'. Stories behind names are interesting. If a family naming tradition holds true, she looks forward to having a grandson named Basil.

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