Monday, January 03, 2011

The Name Game

I'm the type of writer that needs to know everything before I start.  I've always been like this.  Even in college, I'd sit and percolate the ideas for a paper until I could see the whole thing stretched out before me, then sit down and write page after page in long, draining sessions.  I wasn't procrastinating.  Really.  I had a system.

My dissertation went about the same; I knew the whole shape of it and all of the pieces before any one of the chapters started making sense individually.  The chapters I wrote before I knew the whole shape were just long, rambling messes.

 I'm simmering a new story now.  It's going to be a love story about ghosts that aren't really ghosts and dreams that are realities.  I can see most of my characters--what they look like, even what some of them sound like.  But I just don't know what their names are.

It's insanely frustrating.

I have the name of one or two minor characters, but that's about it.  And I'm talking seriously minor.

Some might say I should just write and use XX or something for a place holder, but I just can't function like that.  Names are important.  They shape who we are and how others approach us.  For characters, they're essential parts of their existence.  J. Alfred Prufrock couldn't have been a Jones any more than a Snopes could have been anything else.  And a regency novel with a Jason or a Jessica just totally kills the mood for me.

Both of my boys had names moments after the ultrasound lady pointed the little arrow on the screen at their boy parts.  I felt like they needed to be called by a true name then, at the very beginning of their story, and I feel like my characters need their names now, before I really begin theirs. 

So I'm playing the name game.  Want to help?  Here's what I need--  Guy's name, vaguely French and a girl's name, preferably something that has a historic ring to it (her brother's name is going to be Thomas Jefferson).Should yours be picked and I become the next Stephanie Meyers, I promise to plug your name shamelessly in every interview I give.  Fame and fortune via my coattails could be yours.

Just as soon as I get the stupid manuscript started.

How do you come up with your character's names?  Did you invest in a baby name book?  Does inspiration magically come to you? Or are you one of the lucky ones that can write with holes?

15 comments:

JoAnn said...

Lisa, my heroines tend to have multiple names during the draft stages. As their personalities develop, I'm constantly saying "No, that's not what someone named XXX would do. That's what someone named YYY would do." And so she becomes YYY for a few pages.

I have an early edition of this book, and while I don't use it too often, it's fun to have around. ;-)

http://www.writersdigestshop.com/product/writers-digest-character-naming-sourcebook/

Lexi said...

Lisa, I use baby name sites on the internet and I have a character-naming book that divides the names up by male/female and country of origin. What about Lucien or Tristan for the guy and Sophie for the girl? I agree, names are important. Good luck!

Callie James said...

Lisa, I'm the same in that I need my names before I start the book.

Sometimes I just know the name, and I don't know why. Other times, if I know the character's background or history, I start doing Google searches.

Good luck!

Carla Swafford said...

I use the same book that JoAnn uses. Note that Sherrilyn Kenyon originally put it together before she hit it big. The book is so useful and sometimes I still use the babyname.com website.

The character's personality is so important to go with the name.

When you said you needed something with a historic ring to the girl's name, I thought Madison. Madi for short.

The boy's name I can't help you without knowing more. But isn't that the way it goes. Girls are easier to name for me.

Gwen Hernandez said...

I'm with you, Lisa. I need to have names before I get into the meat of the story. They must match my physical and mental vision of the person. I scour the baby name sites, and now Scrivener has a name generator in 2.0 that I've played with.

I once changed a secondary character mid-stream to save his name for a later hero, and I called him the old name for months afterward.

For your characters, I was thinking Marc and Anna. Good luck!

Cari Hislop said...

I have to have my names first too. Like other people I scour baby name books and sites, and I keep scouring until it feels right. Sometimes my characters come with a name, but usually they make me find it.

The man's name that first came to mind was Jacque (sometimes written as Jock in non French speaking places) and is pronounced with a soft J (like GaGa Gabore). This is French for James.

The girl...hmmm...traditional...the very first name that comes to mind for some unfathomable reason is Muriel though I don't really like it. How about Stella? Which means star?

Lisa D. said...

Great Suggestions!
JoAnn- Thanks for the link!
Lexi- I was actually throwing around Lucien, or Luc/Luke. Maybe Julien?
I dunno. This would be a lot easier if they would just come pre-named! :)

Louisa Cornell said...

I too have to know my characters' names and quite a bit more about them before I write.

How about Etienne for the guy? It is an old French name and is still very popular in Louisiana.

Abigail is a nice historical sounding name. One of my personal heroes is Abigail Addams.

I use a website that gives a sort of Regency era probability of a name being used in the nineteenth century to name my characters.

Sorry, I haven't been around for a bit. I was down with pneumonia for a little over a week. Still not 100 percent, but I think I'll live. At least I'm back at work!

M.V.Freeman said...

I need to know my names...and I google names sites online. Sometimes I use a phone book. (I even get hung up on surnames)

As for a name I'd say Gavin or Andre, and for a girl, Catherine or Elizabeth.

LindaC said...

A baby name book in print and sites on the internet are things I use. White pages of the phone if I get really desperate. I can't start a WIP until names are chosen. If I try to start, the characters nag me until I get them the right name. Some characters outright tell me their name and refuse to entertain any other-like the hero who told me in no uncertain terms that his name was Bram. I just take orders!

LindaC

arlenewritesromance said...

I have a baby name book, but I haven't used it in a long time. Sometimes, character names just come to me out of the blue.

But I really don't like to write much without naming my h/h ... probably why I have a half-baked story floating in my head that I haven't done anything with yet.

Christine said...

Obits, class lists, football teams, character naming book, baby name book, etc. I tend to reuse the same blasted names over and over again. Now I am writing a name bible with all my names used in it so I don't repeat them as often LOL. Some people use spammer names, too. I got one of my heroes with a spam name.

Lisa D. said...

Etienne is interesting, and I've been tossing around Abigail or Eleanor, but haven't settled on anything yet.

Thanks for all the great suggestions!

Chris Bailey said...

Lisa,
I love your post and your method. When I was looking for an important-in-local-history name for a main character, I discovered www.findagrave.com. You can browse various cemeteries around the country--and they're filed by types of fame! I also have a baby name book, and I keep an alumni directory and a commencement exercises program on hand. (Check out the international studies majors!) Have fun--I think naming the babies is the best part.

Lisa D. said...

Chris- I agree. I loved coming up with names for my kids, but as pregnancy just doesn't agree with me and kids are so darn expensive, I find it much more economical to just name my new characters :)