Friday, February 1, 2008

Name That Character

Lately I’ve been obsessing about names. Usually I only worry about this when I’m trying to come up with an interesting name for a character. I search the baby-naming websites, scan articles in the newspaper, yes, even check the obituaries. But now, every time I hear an interesting name, I’m thinking about how I can use it in a book.
I started a file of names for future novels and my desk is littered with slips of paper. Sometimes I’ll read a book and wonder why an author chose a particular character’s name. I’m so caught up in the name I don’t pay attention to what’s going on in the book. This is especially true if it’s difficult to pronounce.

I hate it that Pushing Daisies has a character named Olive because it’s such a great name and now if I use it, I’ll feel as though I’m cheating. Once a name is used in literature, is it off limits? Not really. But will there ever be a stronger Emma than Jane Austen’s or a quirkier Owen than John Irving’s Meany? If your character has similar traits to another literary character, will you call her Scarlett or him Holden?

A character named Caitlin will have a different personality than a character named Martha, right? And she’ll likely be of a different generation altogether. One of my favorite names for a character (though I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t remember the book) is Minty. She was an agoraphobic loner who was pure and naïve. Makes sense, right?

So, if we're in the middle of a conversation and my mind starts to wander, it’s likely I’ll be thinking about how I can use your name for a character. And if you’ll be flattered or insulted!

What are your favorite character names?


elizabeth said...

I read a short story, I think, with a Minty character. She was a husband-stealer, though, and the jilted wife was the sympathetic protagonist, and Minty had been her assistant! So...

When I was about 13 I read a book with a Christabel as the main character (I think it was a steamy romance I snuck out of my mom's room), and LOVED it. So much that I named my dog Chistabel! (Nicknamed Critter.) And for years I planned to name a daughter "Jessamy," which was a character in a book--contraction of Jessica and Amy, her first and middle names. My family said it sounded like a disease, not a name, but I didn't care. I even lied and used it as my middle name at high school graduation. (Up in the stands, jaws dropped, cheering forgotten in the shock.) But I didn't.

As for my favorite character name! I haven't a clue!

elizabeth again said...

Look at all those exclamation points. Tsk! tsk!

pamela hammonds said...

I read an article in a parenting magazine the other day with some off-beat names of kids in local preschools. Perfect! I thought, tucking the list away for a future character in my book.

I can't think of a name that's my fav, but I did just finish a book whose main character's name was Annabelle. And it fit her perfectly--red-headed, fiesty and a mess. And in my manuscript, I loved the name of my character's best friend: Mary Kyle. I thought she wore it well.

Joan Mora said...

Elizabeth: Jessamy is fun (and possibly disease-like!) Writers don't lie--we cut and paste the truth.

Pamela: I'd love to see that list (promise I won't use any of the names!) Mary Kyle's a great name. Can't wait to see it in print. :)

pamela hammonds said...

I thought of my favorite: Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird.

And I'll bring the list to you when we meet for brunch. But I get first dibs...