Sunday, August 16, 2015

What's in a name?

So yesterday, I threw out a little fun request for some inspiration for names for some characters in a newly conceived book idea. On that post, a self-confessed character-creation expert popped in to give some ideas on what needs to be done to come up with character names. His suggestions were mostly part of the process I use (albeit mostly intuitively) to land on a final name. While I didn't specifically need the things he was suggesting at that point, his statements were mostly valid (at least on the methods of settling on a name - but I'll get onto the rest in a minute). Long story short, the thread went on a little longer than I was initially involved in and one of my fans stepped in to basically tell him to back off. This all happened while I was sleeping. This morning, I woke up, saw what had happened and drafted up a reply. When I went to post, the thread was gone. However, reading back over my reply, I decided there were points that I wanted to make that might be interesting to people. Points about how I name characters and why I put the request out with deliberately very little information.

I want to add quickly before I go on, that I'm not coming down on the side of either party. On one hand, the advice given might have been very helpful to a new author. On the other, it was possible to read it as being condescending, especially with the same information stated in different ways, and it could be read as implying I don't care about my characters. That doesn't mean that's how it was intended to be read or that it wasn't intended to be completely helpful. If something can be read in a negative way though, it's not unreasonable for a liker on an author fan page to say something. That's the fun and frustrating thing about the internet, emails, and text messages, they can all be easily misinterpreted. Take away context, tone, and unspoken language cues and you're left with bare words open for misinterpretation. Always remember:

So naming characters, and why I put the request out with little information.

The thing is, I have a number of books already released. The release of Decide in a few weeks will mark my 6th stand alone piece, plus I have two pieces in anthologies. On top of that, and a large part of the reason I can publish so quickly, is that I have a stack more waiting in the wings to be edited. Specifically, I have six completed novels, waiting in the queue, plus five partial wips which range from 1/4 to 3/4 complete. That's on top of the myriad of ideas I've got jotted down all over the place for new stories. Some of these ideas have named characters, some don't.

Of those books that are either completed or significantly completed, every name of every main character has been researched and selected with care. Not only to ensure that it sound right to me (and the character agrees), but usually it has a textured hidden meaning or two. Note: there might be some slight spoilers below, but nothing that will give away the overall plot of any books.

Depending on where you go to look, Declan means troubled or full of goodness. That pretty much sums Declan up. Plus, it sounds like a cool enough name for a race car driver. Plus it has Irish callbacks that mimic the characters heritage. Morgan, one of the driver's Declan works with, is a bit of a surfer-looking Aussie dude, and Morgan means bright sea. Alyssa, Declan's heroine, means not-insane. That comes into play within the books.

Evie and Clay are a play on Adam and Eve, the first couple and the original sin, as well as a significance to their names separate from that. Evie's full name is Evelyn, which means wished-for child, which has significance to her father because although he didn't expect to have a daughter, she held him together during the hardest months of his life. Evie's nickname means Life. Pretty apt name for a phoenix. Evie's mother's name, Emily, means striving. She tried for a better life for herself and her husband. David, Evie's father's name, means beloved. He was Emily's beloved. Plus his character is based off David Tennant, so double plus there LOL.

Aiden has a name with Celtic roots because the fairy courts he lives in are based on Celtic legends of fae/fair folk. Kieran means black and has Irish roots. Even though he is only a minor character, that name has a deeper meaning in context of what he is and what he does.

That's just a fraction of my characters.

The reason I put the post out, is that the pool of names I've already used is quite substantial. At this point, I'm left with sitting in front of a random name generator, which I might do if nothing leaps out at me in the list on the post or ask for the help of my likers. I know which one I'd prefer. Plus, there's a thrill knowing that you helped name a character.

But that doesn't mean I don't use techniques similar to what was listed in the thread. I consider the name, the age, the background (e.g. US versuses Aussie are going to have different names).

Now as for the reason I deliberately put it out with little information (besides that it's a New Adult novel, therefore people ages 18-25). The are actually a couple. First, for some readers, they just want to suggest a name. They don't necessarily want to lift the curtain and find out how the process works.

If you do want the curtain lifted more than it already has been, sorry to say but there isn't always one hard and fast way that always works lol. One thing I learned a long time ago is that characters will do what they will. Some will come with a name and description fully in place. Others are a sketch, a particular catch-phrase or saying. The best way I can describe it is a jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes, it's easiest to start with the pieces on the outside and work inwards. Other times, there is a certain part of the picture that is easiest to put together and then the rest in filled in around that. And yet other times again, it's a combination of the two.

One thing is a fact though. To me, my characters are never merely a product of their background facts. They are living, breathing...complaining people in my head who each have their own chosen way to let me know their name.

Now to the one part of the conversation that I didn't agree with. In the comments, it was suggested that it was a naming competition. It's not, not really. To me, competition implies that there *must* be a winner, which is definitely not the case here. If I don't find a name that 'speaks' to me in the list, I'll keep searching for one that does. I've simply said in my post that if someone is to suggest the winning name, I'll gift them an ebook. Which I don't think is an unreasonable way of saying thank you for someone's assistance. I'm sorry if that disappoints anyone.

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