Friday, July 29, 2011

"What's in a Name?"

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

~William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
The act of naming a character has its pros and cons, much like everything else in life and especially in writing.  It's been known to bring on as much angst as naming a new baby.  Both of the two names I suggested for my first daughter were names that were immediately vetoed by her dad.  One he just didn't like, the other was the name of someone he knew and just didn't like.  Three days after she was born, we finally agreed on a name (and a middle name!).  With luck, I don't think I've ever heard her say she hated it, but there was a time she liked her middle name better.  BTW, She was not named after a TV witch, the sister of a TV witch or a comic book witch that later appeared on TV, as everyone has often thought, but after a heroine in a romance novel.  Was that a sign?

And so it goes.  Some names remind us of people we know, while others just don't work for us.  We don't like the sound, or names that start with B or any hundred of other reasons.  So imagine what it's like to name a book full of characters.  And not only first names, but last names, as well!

Some people like old fashioned names for their characters.  Some people name their characters the names they didn't (or weren't allowed!) to name their children.  Sometimes, after naming a character, we learn that the name won't work for the editor.  That's happened to me with three heroines.  It wasn't easy at first to adjust, but eventually, after writing fifty-five thousand words where the name is used hundreds of times, the new name settles in and becomes the character.

But what if you just can't come up with a name?  Websites with nothing but baby names are available, sometimes dividing the names into origins.  Behind the Name is one I like when looking for something a little more ethnic.  Or what if you write historicals and want to use a name more fitting to a specific time period?  I've heard some people check genealogy records or even cemetaries.  I don't write historicals, but when I have an older or even younger character, I use the Social Security Administration Popular Baby Names site, where names are broken down into popularity by each year from 1880 to the present.  (My government at work for me!)

Maybe you think the name of secondary characters isn't important.  Not necessarily.  When I needed a heroine for a new Desperation book, I looked at my list of minor characters who had appeared in one or more books and found one who had never been described by her age.  While the name wouldn't have been my first choice for a heroine, it's grown on me and fits this particular heroine to a T.

When the naming gets tough, don't give up.  Popularity of names changes with the wind.  What might have been popular decades ago, isn't today, but it may have prompted a new one that is.

Do you know from what name the currently second most popular name Emma derives?  You might be surprised!     

No comments: