Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Name By Any Other Name……

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
So Shakespeare writes in his play “Romeo and Juliet.” Now, I don’t know much about flowers, but when it comes to naming characters, I respectfully disagree with the Bard. Certain names will not smell so sweet, or come across like roses to your readers. Think of great names in literature. For example, Atticus Finch from “To Kill a Mockingbird”, or two of my favorites, Scarlett O’ Hara and Rhett Butler from “Gone With the Wind.” Now, there are only so many names to choose from, and I’m no Harper Lee or Margret Mitchell, but I do try and put a great deal of effort into naming my characters. Here are some tips I’ve learned through this process:

1) Know Your Character: What kind of background does your character have? Is your hero a cowboy from the old west? Or is he a titled English aristocrat? Would the name Charles Bradley Fitzsimmons III, be better for the former hero, or the latter? What about Jack Taylor? The longer a person’s name, the more likely they are to be wealthy and respected. Also, take into consideration your character’s personality. Is your heroine proper and demure? Or is she athletic and adventurous? Would the name Elaine DeFord fit the former or the latter? What about Bobbie Dawson? (Side note: Please no more than one cross gender name per novel. It can really jar the reader to have a Chris and a Jamie in the same book).

2) Know The Era: As many of you know, I write historical romance. Nothing jars me more, when I’m reading a historical book, than finding a character with a modern sounding name. Of course the author has to like the name (more on this later) but do they really have to name their Revolutionary War heroine, Brooke? Or their dashing Regency Lord, Billy? Really, I’ve seen these names used and worse. Also, pick names that sound age appropriate. Although Maud was once a little girl, and had to use her name her entire life, the name Maud sounds more suited to someone older.

3) Pick Names That are Reader Friendly: Another one of my “name peeves” is to read names I have no idea how to pronounce. Now, if you’re writing a story set in France, or in a biblical era, you may have to use names that might be difficult for the reader to pronounce. One way to help clarify names of this sort is, early in the story, have another character pronounce that person’s name, the way it sounds, not the way it’s spelled. Then of course, your character will correct this. Then your reader will at least know at that point, how it is pronounced. Usually, however, for those novels set in America and England, names that most people are familiar with, are easiest on the reader.

4) Pick Names You Like: This may be common sense, but let’s say when you were in elementary school a girl named Laura teased you mercilessly. Now, twenty years later you decide to name one of your secondary characters Laura. Subconsciously, you may shy away from this character because of the image you have retained in your head from long ago. Another thing, don’t pick a name for your main character that is very popular and overused. I did this once and regretted it. I would constantly hear that character’s name out of context as I was working on my novel, and almost considered changing the character’s name halfway through just because it began bugging me so much. Therefore, I make a rule not to name my main characters names I hear frequently, such as the names of my good friends, because it can really throw me off balance.

5) Consider Nicknames: - In most of my novels at least one of my main characters uses a shortened version of their name such as, Katie instead of Katherine. But don’t use nicknames for all your characters and chose the nicknames just as carefully as you chose their full name. Too many characters having more than one name confuses readers. Above all, be consistent. Don’t have only half of the secondary characters use the nickname and the rest use the full name. If you do this, there should be a good reason, and the reader should always be able to ascertain who is being talked about.

6) How to Choose Names: I keep a list of names that I come across that may work for future novels. When I hear of a new name that I like, I add it to the list. I also have looked for possible names in baby name books, and on websites, plus research books from the era in which I am writing about. For instance, I may google “victorian baby names” if I am writing in the Victorian Era. Once, I researched all the passengers on the Titanic to name a character for a story I was writing, about that incident.

In Conclusion:
Even after all this work, not all readers will like the names you chose. Don’t be offended. We all perceive things differently, and only in very rare cases, will your character’s name drastically effect book sales. The names you choose can increase and enhance reader satisfaction with your story, however. So hopefully this post will help with that aspect of story writing.

Your Turn - Do you enjoy naming your characters? Have you ever had someone say the only thing they didn’t like about your story was a character’s name? Any tips you share are appreciated!

Happy Naming…

WEEK ONE: Count down to Christmas book giveaway! This week we will be giving away two copies of the book, “Smitten”, by Colleen Coble and friends. This would be a great read or a great gift to give away for Christmas. This is an advanced readers copy, as this book will be released in December. Please leave your name and email (don’t forget your email) if you would like to be entered to win one of these two books. We will draw two winners and contact them by Friday of this week. Join in the fun as we countdown to Christmas!


karenk said...

thanks for the chance to read this wonderful book...can't believe that christmas is just around the corner :)

kmkuka at yahoo dot com

Dawn Ridley said...

How fun is this? Amanda you are so creative. I can't wait to get to know you better.

Please enter em into your drawing as well.

Jen said...

Thanks for the chance to win this book, it is one that I am looking forward to reading!



Andrea Strong said...

My comment is actually about character names. So far most of mine haven't taken a lot of thought. My husband has named a couple. One inadvertently. Another when I said, What's the first girl's name you think of?

One character, Denton Douglas, uses a nickname, Denny. His first name is his mother's maiden name. And who wants be called Denton? My heroine calls him Dougie. She has her reasons.

The heroine name came from the song that inspired the story.

In another story, I'm modeling a character's feisty personality after my grandmother's. Grandma died this summer, and I'm naming that character in honor of her.

Amanda~ I had a comment from you on my blog saying I had won one of Ruth Logan Herne's books. But the email you left did not work. I tried it twice.

Here's mine:

andeemarie95 at gmail dot com