Saturday, May 15, 2010

What's in a Name?


Exciting news...my copy of Kayla's Daddy by Laura Bradford came in the mail this weekend. I won this wonderful book (by an amazing author!) over at Sharon Mayhew's Random Thoughts. Thanks, Sharon!

I've always been fascinated with names, and I've always loved baby naming books. Luckily for me, I don't have to give up my baby naming books just because I'm done naming my babies - now I name characters instead.

Of course the name has to be fitting for the character's nationality, age, etc. But I also like it to convey something of their personality. In my current wip, Murphy is so named because he was found as a child, with no memory of his former life or even his own name, in Murphy's Corner Store. But the name Murphy, to me, also conveys the athletic, all-American kind of guy that Murphy is. The mc, Tabitha, is called Tabs by her family, but Murphy calls her Tabby. Even though Murphy was raised as her brother, he's not her actual sibling. This is important to the story. I suppose most readers won't catch the nuance here, but maybe some will. The exotic, dark-haired beauty? Selena. The flirty barfly? Brandy.

My favorite baby name book is The Baby Name Survey Book by Bruce Lansky (though there's a new version out called - you guessed it - The New Baby Name Survey Book.) Not only does this book give the origin and meaning of each name, but also what people think of that name. Susan, for instance, is seen as wholesome, pleasant, and down-to-earth. Some people think she's whiny and fussy (can you belive that?!) Data was collected from a survey of over 100,000 parents to determine the predominant images of each name. Is your character quiet? Try Curtis. How about glamourous? Maybe Eden will fit her.

The funny thing about this book is that it's never on my bookshelf when I need it. Usually I find it in one of my kids' rooms. They actually spend time just reading through the pages of this baby name book - even my son. I guess names are fascinating to most everyone.

How about you? How do you choose character names? Do you spend a lot of time on them? Do you try to make them convey the character's personality?

In other news...Thanks so much for all the nice compliments on my family picture. I think most everyone guessed correctly that I am the sister sitting closest to my mom, with sunglasses pushed up on my head and a red shirt.

Also, thanks to all who offered advice on getting Blogger to recognize my paragraph breaks. Next time I have a problem I'll venture into editing the html (eek!)

I'll be back Tuesday with my entry for Fiction Groupie's Let's Talk Blogfest. If you haven't signed up yet, there's still time!

Happy Sunday, Everyone!

37 comments:

Talli Roland said...

Happy Sunday, Susan!

I always try to think of people I know, of students I taught, and then I steal their names!

Jemi Fraser said...

I enjoy naming my characters too. For my current wip I used Victorian baby name sites - it's a Steampunk sotry.

As a teacher I've encountered a lot of names and some of them are now firmly attached to certain personality types. :)

Old Kitty said...

Hi

Wow- what a great win and what a lovely book too! Congratulations!

Gosh - you are so good thinking very carefully about naming your characters! I'm a little slack with mine and maybe I ought to think about names a bit more - they do convey a characteristic and a quirk (as well as nationalities etc!).

Good luck with the blogfest and see you soon!

take care
x

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I never spend long, but not because I don't give it thought. I start to visualize the character, define his or her traits and background, and then a name just hits. (Usually a short or simple name, like Lori or James.) And I don't think I've ever changed a name once it hits, either.

Piedmont Writer said...

For my first book, I used the census. For this book, I went ethnic and went to Italy. I love baby name books too. Your kids are probably looking up what their friends names are or their enemies. See if they're right.

Joanne said...

I choose character names that are pretty common so that readers can feel a connection, as though the character can be a sister, a friend, someone they've come across in their lives.

Aubrie said...

I love naming my characters and spend a lot of time naming each one. I didn't know there was such a book with data on what people feel about the names. Wow.

Bossy Betty said...

Ohhhh! A baby name book! Why didn't I think of that?

Tess said...

Yes, I do use a baby name book. It was my first 'craft book' actually. I got it at the goodwill for $1. In fact, I got two.

Sometimes I use them, other times my characters names just come to me. I got Olivene (Ollie) from my family history records. That is a great place to search because it helps you feel even more connected to that character, I think.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Susan, thanks for the shout out. I hope you enjoy Laura's book. (It's fun!)

I steal my characters names from students, family members (dead and alive) and I use The Baby Name Survey Book that you convinced me to buy. I liked it so much I blogged about it, along with a few of my other favorite resource books, a few months ago...It is an awesome book! THANKS FOR POINTING ME IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION. :)

Jen said...

Happy Sunday!!! I'm glad you enjoyed my video over at T.J.'s blog!!! I thought you should be showcased since you and I are waiting on that third win!

I think picking character names are very important and a lot of fun. I start with regular names and try and decide if they work at the end. This time I got lucky but I know there will be times when the names do need to be changed!

Myrna Foster said...

My kids steal my baby name books too.

Al said...

I've tagged you. Find the details over at my blog


Al

Publish or Perish

Susan Fields said...

Talli - That's a good way to do it, I think my characters are more real to me when they're named after someone I know.

Jemi - I used a lot of baby name websites, too - especially for ethnic names.

Old Kitty - I truly have just always loved names, even as a child, so naming characters is one of my favorite parts. I probably spend more time on it than I should.

L. Diane - That's great that once you come up with the name you stick to it. I often change them (thank goodness for the REPLACE feature in Word!)

Susan Fields said...

Anne - You actually went to Italy? Awesome - can't find a better way to come up with authentic names than that! You're probably right about my kids, and here I thought they were coming up with names for my future grandbabies!

Joanne - That's a great idea, I hadn't thought about choosing a name the reader might now to help forge a connection. I usually choose unusual names, just because they're so much fun. I think in my current wip, I don't know one person with any of the character's names. Isn't that funny how different authors do it?

Aubrie - I highly recomment this book. It's just a lot of fun, even if you aren't naming characters (as my kids can attest!)

Betty - Not just any baby name book, but I recommend this survey one. It's really interesting to see the different impressions people have of different names. A lot of them are pretty obvious (people think Elizabeth is regal), but a lot of them aren't. It's a lot of fun!

Susan Fields said...

Tess - I love that idea, I hadn't thought of searching family records. My mom's into that, too, so she'd probably have a good list. I love the name Olivene - I didn't know that was a family name. Cool!

Sharon - I'm so glad you like the book as much as I do. And you're very welcome for the shout-out, thanks so much for the book!

Jen - I change my character names often. In my last wip, it occured to me just a couple of weeks ago that every single female character had a name ending in "a" - Tabitha, Leila, Selena, Jessica, Nina, etc. So I changed a few of the minor characters for a little variety. Probably no one else would have noticed, but I thought it was too much. Okay, this week is a biggie in T.J.'s contest - we both have a shot at the coveted third place win! Should be exciting...

Myrna - Isn't that funny? Though I was fascinated with names as a child, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised. I used to make up Concentration playing cards where the pairs were names starting with the same letter (Jennifer and Julia would be a pair, Sarah and Stephanie would be a pair.) I know, I can't believe I just admitted that - what a weird kid!

Al - I'm coming right over to check it out!

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

Naming characters is one of the highlights of writing, for me. I too like the name to say something about the character, even if only I understand that meaning. It makes me feel closer to the person, and I imagine the readers feeling the same way.

I usually find names doing Google searches, but there are cool names all around! I'm always jotting them down in my handy Moleskin journal or in the NotePad of my phone.

Susan Fields said...

Nicole - I once went to my niece's preschool Christmas concert, and the program included all the children's names. That one little program was chock full of wonderful names! I took the name of one of the mc's of my epic fantasy from that program - Anjali.

Lynn said...

I used to find my kids browsing through my baby names books too! It's interesting how we associate a name with a personality. I like reading of characters who are the exact opposite than the associations their name usually carries. I plan to try this on my next story. And I must admit I do use tv and movies to gather names, too!

Susan Fields said...

Lynn - That's an interesting twist! I never thought of using a name that's the opposite of a character's personality, I'll bet that would be a lot of fun! It is funny how we associate names with personalities. I had a teacher friend once who told me never to name my child Justin because that's just asking for trouble. I honestly don't remember ever knowing a Justin, so I can't speak to the truth of that, but it's funny how people have these associations.

Julie Dao said...

Susan, those are great and very fitting names! I'm also fascinated by names as well. I love when I'm reading a book and the character just suits his or her name perfectly. For my own writing, I go to babynames.com and pick ones that stand out to me. It's usually a long process because I'm VERY indecisive, but in the end I narrow it down to two or three. (How am I ever going to name my own children someday?!)

Creepy Query Girl said...

It's funny- I usually will start out an ms with a set of names and then completely change them as I go along because the character doesn't sound like a 'Max' or whatever. Have you ever tried looking up your name in the urban dictionary? They've always got funny definitions.

Southpaw said...

Names are important and I'll keep changing out names until I get the right one. Thank goodness for the find and replace function.

Lydia Kang said...

It's so weird, the names in my writing come from out of nowhere. They just pop right into my head. Sometimes I reject them, but most of the time, it's just meant to be!

Susan Fields said...

Julie - I absolutely adored naming my own children. If only I didn't have to give my husband a say in the matter! :)

Creepy Query Girl - I just looked my name up on urbandictionary.com. The first few definitions were great, after that - not so good. I've used urban dictionary before, but I had no idea they do names, also. Fun!

Southpaw - I used the REPLACE function all the time! I just changed a character's name about two weeks ago in a book I've been working on for the past year. She's a very minor character, but her name just wasn't working.

Susan Fields said...

Lydia - Yes, sometimes names are just meant to be - I totally agree! And that's so cool when that happens. And sometimes I struggle to find just the right one and end up changing it anyways.

Jackee said...

Can't wait to see what you cook up for the Blogfest.

I love baby name books too, but I love it MORE when characters tell me their names right away. It saves so much trouble.... :o)

Congrats on winning the book! Yay for Sharon!

Susan Fields said...

Jackee - Yes, yay for Sharon! She's awesome. :)

I do like it better when characters just tell me their names, those seem to be the ones that fit best. But the baby name books (and websites) are one of my favorite forms of research - love those!

T.J. Carson said...

Ha! I get my character names from baby names/meanings websites! lol. I look for symbolism or things that catch my eye and make me picture my character. lol

oh yeah. ha. white russian helped, I did it (for the second time) because I got a killer grade on one of my hardests test by cramming the night before and drinking one. It helped me loosen up and crack down. (promise i'm not an alchy, just stressed.) it's like having a glass of wine when you come home from work--at least that's how I think of it lol.

Again, love this post. We have another commonality when it comes to our characters susan! Glad I'm not the only one who does this :)

Susan Fields said...

T.J. - Okay, I hope the White Russian had the same effect this time. :) I love baby name websites, too - especially for ethnic names. I just spend way too long on them!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I swear I spend more time figuring out the names of my characters than I did for my kids. :)

I have several different criteria I use for picking out names, including ethnic origin, the story, friends names (so they don't all start with the same letter and have the same number of syllables).

Theresa Milstein said...

I used the same baby name book to name my kids!

The Internet is where I spend my time finding names. I scour baby-name sights, checking names that have some personality trait of my character or a foreshadow, and then check ethnicity. Name playing is half the fun.

Susan Fields said...

Stina - I had so much fun picking out my kids' names! I'm sure I drove my husband insane. :) I realized after I finished the current draft of my wip that every girl's name ended in an "a". So I went back and changed some of the minor character's names for a little variety.

Theresa - That is a great book, isn't it? I used it for naming my children, also. I especially love the little section where they have lists of traits (intelligent, athletic, etc.) with the names most commonly associated with that trait - it's perfect for writers!

Shannon said...

It seems the first names pop into my head. Surnames on the other hand usually take a lot of research. Thank goodness for the net!

Susan Fields said...

Shannon - I agree! Surnames can be really difficult. I get many of mine from the net as well.

Kelly said...

That's a great resource book!
I have a hard time with last names sometimes...phone book anyone?

Susan Fields said...

Kelly - I usually go online for last names and Google something like "German last names." Hadn't thought of using the phone book! Sometimes I do look at last names of authors of books on my bookshelves, though.