Jessie: On the coast of Maine, happily soaking up every last drop of summertime
I’m working on a new project and new projects involve large amounts of one of my favorite parts of writing, naming the characters. I have no idea why it would be the case but I absolutely love naming things. If I weren’t a writer I think I’d love to be someone who dreams up the names for lipsticks, nail polishes and house paint.
Sometimes names magically rush fully formed into my head along with the characters who own them. Often those names and characters show up even before the story does. For the Sugar Grove mystery I completed in June the entire direction of the book grew from the name of the victim.
Other times I have a type of character in mind because of the story I have planned and I set out to deliberately craft the name for that character. I start with the time period in which the story is set and the age of the character. Then I head straight over to the Social Security Administration website to consult their database of names. Usually, I start by checking names by decade and then may move on to checking by region.
The database also lists given names by popularity. You can look at the top 1000 names and one of the questions I ask myself about the character is what sort of parents would he or she have had? Would they have chosen a popular or a more unique name of their child? As I decide on an answer this gives me some insight into the character’s background.
I like to use New Hampshire and Maine phone books for surnames. I think names commonly found in a locale in real life lend a sense of authenticity to the fictional world.
I use Scrivener for my writing and it has a handy character list that I can leave open in front of me. The list helps me to be sure I don’t choose the same initials for too many characters. Donald, Desmond and Douglas cause a lot of trouble if they are in the same story. So can too many surnames that begin with “Mc” or end with “son”.
I think about the way the name sounds when I say it aloud. I think about my personal preferences and how I react to the name. I look up the meaning and explore possible nicknames. I think about whether or not someone would like to be gifted with the name I am planning for them.
After I’ve got a name I am pleased with I google it to be sure I haven’t dreamed up an already famous name because I am ignorant of something historically or in pop culture. In the best case scenario there is no one with the name that turns up in my searching. The next best thing is for it to turn up frequently for many different people. Once the name has passed that hurdle it gets added to the list and the character begins to become real to me. I can start to see her in my mind’s eye or hear his voice.
So what’s in a name? For me, the start of something wonderful.
Readers, do you like naming things? Children, pets, characters of you own? Do you love discovering the names leafing out your family tree? I’d love to hear some of your favorite names too.