Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What's in a Name?

One thing they never tell you about child raising is that for the rest of your life, at the drop of a hat, you are expected to know your child's name and how old he or she is. ~Erma Bombeck

That's true for mamas and also for writers. I'll be giving a book talk and somebody will ask something about one of the characters in my book. They will have forgotten the name, but they expect me to remember. That's certainly understandable. They didn't invent them and live with them for a year or more while they were writing their stories. No, that was me, but sometimes the names slip away, especially if it wasn't a major character in the story.

You see, there are a lot of people to name in a novel. Of course you start out with the main characters, your hero and heroine. Then you start fleshing them in with family members and friends. Think about all the people in your own extended family. Add in the people you went to school with. Now the ones you've worked with. Oh, and all those people at church. And don't forget your Facebook friends. 

Names circle us like a swarm of bees. Sometimes the names stick and rise up to our lips when we need to speak the name. Sometimes the name is firmly entrenched in our brain, but it refuses to come out where we can say it. At least, not when we want it to. It generally shows up hours later while we're thinking about something totally different. The name will pop into our head out of the blue and sometimes we'll say we knew it started with a "J" or whatever letter. 

I have named dozens and dozens of characters. Some years ago, I started keeping a record of my major characters' names. That's supposed to help keep me from using the same names over and over. I tend to like some names more than others. 

I'm editing a book I wrote several years ago that never found a publisher. I decided I needed to change one of my secondary character's name. I have seen other writers ask their Facebook friends for help with name, so I decided to do the same. I asked what they would name the small town newspaper editor. He's the kind of guy that sort of rubs people the wrong way with his questions since they feel he's always trying to get a story out of them. But he's not a bad guy. He does want the town to do well, but he also wants to sell newspaper. He's in his late thirties and the story is set in the 1990's here in Kentucky. His last name is Leland.

I had originally named him Miles which I do like, but it's too much like my main character's name, Michael. Readers might get confused if they were reading fast about who was who. So I asked my Facebook friends what they would name this guy. And before morning I had over 80 comments. Now, after a few days, I've gotten around 125 names. 

So tonight, for fun, I wrote down all the great suggestions. The amazing thing is that in all those names, there weren't all that many repeat suggestions. Clark was the most suggested name with 7. Phil or Phillip was runner-up with 6. Most of the names were single suggestions. Everybody had a different idea of what to name my pesky little editor. I wanted a one syllable name and there were many suggestions that had me nodding my head and thinking, yes, that might work. But he's just one guy and so he only needs one name. I've already tried Lloyd. No one suggested that name. And Kyle. Two or three suggested that name. Those names didn't seem to fit. And so, right now I'm going with Hank. That was suggested by a couple of people. 

Hank Leland. What do you think? Does that sound like a pesky newspaper man who is always ready to dig for a story? If not, what do you suggest? 

Naming characters is actually a fun part of writing fiction. But I do like for the name to fit. Sometimes that takes some brainstorming before a writer can settle on the perfect name. And sometimes that name gets changed and then changed again. 

No wonder I can't remember some of my characters' names. Could be, I'm still considering changing those names. LOL.

14 comments:

  1. Frank Leland sounds like a good strong name to me. I am always I intrigued by names. I find it interesting to hear the names people suggest.

    mauback55 at gmail dot com

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    1. I enjoy all the names too, Melanie. Several people suggested Frank. And that's not far from Hank, is it? I love people telling me about their names and why their parents picked their names.

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  2. How about a nickname like "Scoop"? It would be like poking a little fun at the pesky little local newspaper man.

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    1. That would be a good one, Johnny. Nobody else suggested Scoop, but Scoop Leland has a nice ring and that little poke of fun, as you say.

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  3. I am late in responding but would like to add to your list. You most likely received the name Perry (as in the Superman movie) but I wanted to comment on Hank. Every Hank that I know personally (and I know three) are all very much outdoors guys involved in sports. (two of them are named Henry, thus Hank as their nickname). Knowing other Hanks, makes that name seem odd to me, but that is just because I know others by that name.

    I do like the nickname of Scoop as was suggested as it gives you a connection to the job he holds, or how about Reed which is what you do with a newspaper of course (and it is our grandson's name too). :) I really think that Reed is perfect but as I said I may be partial to that name. :) Reed Leyton..

    Cynthia
    ceblain(AT)tmlponline(DOT)net

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    1. I liked Scoop too, but it's sort of a hard name to use in conversation. Reed is not bad. I was really settled with Hank, but now who knows? I may have to give it more thought. That's the thing about names. It has to fit. My newspaper character is not the hero of the story or anything, but he does play a role. Thanks for your suggestions and comments, Cynthia.

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  4. Hi Ann, Hank just does not sound like a newspaper kid to me I do like the guys suggestion of scoop, now he looks like he could be a guy with a hat and a pencil stuck behind his ear...I like it.
    Hope you pick a good one...
    Paula O

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    1. You're the second person to vote against Hank, Paula, and after I was so sure I'd found his name. Now I'm wondering. He does have his pencil and probably a hat. Thanks for your comment.

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  5. Herman. It is a horrible sounding name to me, like you would want to run away from that name. A name that would make you irritable or like a person who has to try to find friends so would be pesky and bothersome. Karen in NC

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    1. Herman. Just not your kind of name, Karen. I don't really detest this character, but he is pesky. Thanks for your suggestion. I'm beginning to think my newspaper character's name is still up in the air.

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  6. Plus, it's also the name of this guy: http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0033829/bio

    How about Witt, Pierce, Bert, Chet, or Troy?

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    1. Those are some good name, Laura. I might add a little to Witt and think Whitt. Chet is good too. I have so many good names now, I'll never be able to settle of one. LOL. Thanks for your comments and suggestions.

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  7. In my choir we are singing a Shaker song, "Ye followers of the Lamb. " it was arranged by Edwin Ferguson. I was wondering if you got the name Edwin from your book, The Seeker, from this hymn arranger, or if you just loved the name. I was also wondering if in real Shaker villages romances really did happen or if romance only happens in your Shaker novels.

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    1. No, I just picked a name. I do sometimes look at the index in the history books I use for research to see names that go with a certain era. I'm not familiar with that particular Shaker song, but it's neat that your choir is singing it. As to your question about Shaker village romances, yes, they did happen. Couples often slipped away in the night. Of course, just as in my book, once romance came to call they had to leave the village or turn away from their wayward feelings. Wayward to the Shakers anyway. Actually, sometimes men or women who had lived with the Shakers for many years, sometimes even leaders or deacons, would still decide to go to the world. The Shaker journals sometimes state that so and so has gone to the world and how they are sliding into a pit of sin. My stories do have to have a little romance. That makes the book sweeter.

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Thanks for joining the conversation. I like hearing what you have to say. Thanks for dropping by.