I love going through Soap Opera magazines for names because it gives me double – the character name and the actors’ real names. Then I play mix and match with last names and first names until something both sounds right together and feels right for the character. It’s a fun process, actually!
In my upcoming May book, Karma, the character Cara Hartley came to me from the character Cara Castillo played by Lindsay Hartley on All My Children. When I created Cara as a secondary character in Destiny, Lindsay Hartley was exactly who I envisioned as my character. Sometimes I’ll switch up the eye color just because I need it for the story, but the overall look of the character and the names are usually Soap related!
Naming a character, especially the hero and heroine of my books, isn’t a big time-consuming process for me. I have the standard baby name book that I refer to and use, but there are now so many baby name websites on the internet that also help in my character naming process. On a lot of those sites, I’m able to look up names by the year of popularity, and a lot of times I look up the names based on the year my characters were born, and go from there. Usually I can find something I like that “fits”.
The personality of my character is also an important factor to consider when I pick out names. I do like their names to reflect their personal character traits, which helps readers identify with them, as well. For my upcoming novella in “The Guy Most Likely To” Blaze anthology (out in July 2012), my hero grew up a computer nerd/geek. In high school, he had a difficult time fitting in. I named him Will. It’s a strong enough name to be hero material, yet isn’t trendy or popular. Sometimes, though, I do name my characters based on names I love in general. It all depends on the book, the story, and my mood!
Although character names can set the tone for an entire book, I honestly don’t spend a lot of time thinking about them when I’m first planning or even starting a book. I have, on more than one occasion, started writing a book knowing the characters’ names will change as I progress. As I write forward and develop the character, the naming becomes more easy for me. Once I know the person, I can do a much better job of making sure they have a name that’s suited to their personality and background.
Beyond trying to make sure I don’t do names that are too much alike in the same book, I’m pretty open to anything. I do like to avoid overly trendy names, and I do research to determine whether or not a character’s name would have been in use when they were actually born. I’m not talking about historicals, since I don’t write them. But, for instance, there are a lot of girls names that are very popular now that nobody ever heard of twenty-eight years ago when my heroine was born, so I wouldn’t want to use something like that.
I tend to pull out the old baby name book, or look at websites that list popular baby names by birth year on the Internet. I like one syllable names for heroes–as, I think, do a lot of authors–and more unusual or lyrical names for heroines. Probably my favorite combinations of hero/heroine names in my own books are Venus and Troy in Wicked & Willing, Amanda and Reese in Play With Me and Olivia and Gabe in Cold Touch.
Character names are really crucial to me. My go-to book for inspiration is “Beyond Jason & Jennifer,” because it lists the names not alphabetically, but by the type of personality that we associate with the name. Words have connotations the same as names do. For instance, we’ll make assumptions about a woman named Martha, for instance, that we wouldn’t about someone named Marie or Meredith. Sometimes, those name associations come from people we know, but I think it pulls mainly from our literary and film/television references. The heroine of my current WIP, for instance, is named Kate. I was actually really surprised that I hadn’t used this name before! It’s one of my favorite names, harking back to Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, which is my favorite of all his plays. Kate is also a name I love from the character on NCIS. It implies strength and sassiness, two qualities my heroine has in spades. The name works for her the way it wouldn’t have for any of my previous heroines.
The hero of this novella is named Shaw. It’s an unusual name…and I’ve actually used it before, many years ago, for a secondary character whose story I wanted to tell, but never got around to. This hero’s name is Shaw because I’m drawing inspiration from my favorite rock guitarist, Tommy Shaw. (::insert sigh here::) My hero is a rock musician and while he doesn’t look like my man Tommy, I’m picking up on his attitude a little bit. (My hero’s full name is Shaw Tyler…any guesses about the second rocker I’m drawing inspiration from?)
I’ve also learned that sometimes, if a story isn’t working for me, the character names might be to blame. I don’t know why or how that works…but on a novella I wrote years ago called, “Meltdown,” the hero was originally named Spencer. I loved the name…but it didn’t “fit” my hero. He wasn’t as strong as I wanted him to be, but I resisted the change. It wasn’t until my editor made the suggestion that I decided to give it a try. I changed his name to Simon and bam, he started to come to life.
On an interesting note…many of my early books have heroines with names that were ultimately rejected when I was naming my daughter. Ariana, Samantha, Serena, Miranda are four of those. I’ve never used my daughter’s name in a book…for obvious reasons! But I used all the rejects.
Names are fun! What are some of your favorite names? Thanks for blogging!
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