Selecting Roses   19 comments

How do you select the names of your characters?

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I admit I’m a name geek. I’ve always loved looking up the meaning of names. There’s an old Celtic tradition that your name gives power to those who know it. That might actually be the origin of nicknames – a name you use every day that doesn’t have the power of your true name.

I chose names depending on the setting of the book. So, for example, Transformation Project series is set in rural Kansas. I chose a town that really exists as my exemplar so I could research utilities, civic buildings and history. Although I renamed the streets, I use the map of the existing town for the most part. Emmaus is not that town, but it seemed smart to have a real-life research focus.

While I was at it, I took advantage of the local online telephone book to pick a lot of the last names. Often the cultural background of that last name dictated the first name of the character. It made sense that the Delaneys – Jill Faraday married to an Irish-American with an American Indian ancestor — would favor Celtic names – thus Shane and Keri. I researched for Celtic names and I just liked those. Shane’s character predated the book and the name. I didn’t like the name my daughter gave him on our road trip where the character was created, so I found one I liked better. Keri is the name of a daughter of a friend of mine. I liked the Celtic origin, but I changed the spelling. Cai is a nickname for Malacai – a Biblical name meaning “message bearer”. I was scanning through the baby name book and saw that, thought it was perfect for a lawyer who is also a faithful evangelical Christian, but then the full name just felt too heavy and Cai goes back into Celtic traditional names.

I decided the Lufgrens would favor Biblical names. Why? It was just a decision. I could have chosen Swedish names, but the family is Deaf, so I posited they weren’t attached to their Swedish heritage. But I decided Alex’s mother was an outlander – Dad brought her home from Deaf school and so she named her children differently from the other Lufgrens. Poppy because I found it in that telephone book and because you have to be an awesome young person to carry a flower name and I gave it a backstory of a famous Deaf woman in the town’s history – I might use that someday – and Alex because it sounds heroic and I envision Alex as being a sleeping hero who will one day show Shane what a true hero is.

A nearby town had a lot of Polish names and so I picked first names that came from Polish heritage for a lot of the people living in Mara Wells, also loosely based on a real town.

I have some Hispanic characters and their names also come from the baby name book – except Javier (Javi) whose name was borrowed from one of my son’s friends. I just like the nick-name, so I used it.

On the other hand, it is sometimes fun to play with names. For example, I know a real life person who was born in Columbia whose name is Kenji. Yeah, that’s a Japanese name. Put a name on a character that doesn’t match their ethnicity and you can add immediate mystery and hint at a back story. In Transformation Project there is a character who seems to have three names — different people call her two different names and she calls herself another. Why? Ooo, yes, there’s a back story. She’s not a major character so I may never get to it, but it’s there for exploitation if I ever want to use it.

People always ask me where I got the name Jazz for Jessica Tully. I worked with a Jessica who was called Jazz because her older brother couldn’t say Jess right. I liked the sound of the name and I liked the spirit of its bearer, so I borrowed it for the character who is not based on this woman I know, but who has a similar gutsy style. I even borrowed the mispronunciation as the back story on her nickname.

In my fantasy series Daermad Cycle, the names of the Celdryans also come from a Celtic region of Europe, and so I get the names from a baby name book, but then I tweak them slightly to meet the naming conventions I made up for Daermad. The Kin have very long complicated names (based on Asian naming conventions), but I try to keep their first names in view to cut down on reader headaches.

In other genres, I mainly just select names I like, often names I would have used if I’d had a dozen kids. I still go back to the baby name books occasionally for inspiration and to wonder if the name I want to use suits the character.

After all, if names have power over us, it probably matters what you name a fictional character you actually do have power over.

Posted June 24, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

Tagged with , , , , ,

19 responses to “Selecting Roses

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  1. Once you get started, there’s no limit to where you can go with names and places. I knew someone called Kenneth Tucky (what were his parents thinking?)

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    • Maybe they were … or maybe they were. A friend’s wife’s name is Pebbles. I asked that question. Well, her maiden name is Stone. When her older brother was born, they named him Sandy — I believe after a friend and the teasing commenced. They’d never thought of the implications of pairing “Sandy” with “Stone”. So they decided to flaunt it. Their next child was named Rocky, then Pebbles , and then Flint.

      We have a family in our church whose names are Shaun, Shane, Shannon and Shiloh and that was a deliberate choice on their parents’ part. Why? Because they though it would be funny.

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  2. I often select names I like too. I always wanted to call any daughter ‘Erin’, but I only had sons. However, Erin pops up in ‘A Rather Unusual Romance’!

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  3. What they did at Ellis island to names is a story in itself. The German name Guth is pronounced with a long, u, a short u, or the translation of Good. Follow that in your family tree!

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    • I had a friend in high school whose last name was Turnipseed. Okay, so that just requires questions, right? Ellis Island, of course. Her grandfather’s Dutch name was too difficult to pronounce or spell, so the Ellis Island clerk asked “What does it mean?” So, now your name is Turnipseed and you are too scared of being deported that you choose not to rock the boat. I don’t now remember what the Dutch name was, but I remember it as not being that hard.

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  4. I refused to look at another baby name book after my sixth kid. Now, look at me trying to find names for characters on baby name websites. Great article.

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    lyndellwilliams47

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