Tuesday, September 4, 2012

What's in a Name and Alaska Heart Giveaway?

What’s in a name? Well, for me, sometimes naming characters is a bit like trying on clothes. I gather as many names as I can carry, haul them into the dressing room, try them on, angle this way and that way in front of the mirror, ask a trusted buddy for her opinion, discard ones that don’t fit, and whittle down the possibilities until one has been selected. I often call the names out loud in voices portraying the varying moods found in my stories. I need to know a name is going to sound good even if another character is screaming it in rage.

And what about a shortened form of a name? David to Dave, Michael to Mike, Steven to Steve. Those are all okay, but Richard to Dick? Umm, no, not in a romance novel when synonyms for male anatomy are already flying around the pages. Richard to Rich or Rick is no problem, but these are things you need to think about. Now if Richard was the name of a villain, then I’d consider calling him Dick. It’d kind of be appropriate.

The hunt for last names can always be challenging. I’m Italian and live in a predominantly Italian neighborhood. Most of the people I know are Italian. The urge to make every last name sound like something out of The Godfather or Goodfellas or have it end in a vowel is always there. To help me vary it up, I began collecting possible last names in my writer’s notebook. One fun source has been the names of towns along I-91 as I travel from Rhode Island to Vermont. In Kisses to Remember, the hero, Holden Lancaster, has a first and last name that are towns on that route. His heroine, Johanna Ware, sports a last name that came from a highway sign. In my upcoming novel from The Wild Rose Press, Firefly Mountain, the last names of Claremont, Barre, and Thetford all came from this town method as well.

On other occasions, names have just come to me when characters are introducing themselves in my mind. I’ll be walking my dog, and out of nowhere, a voice will say in my head, “Hi, I’m Detective Daxton Wilder, and you should write my story.” Umm, okay, Dax. I’ll get right on that. And suddenly, no other name is right for him.

Sometimes, names are derived from something that describes the character. For example, I have a young adult manuscript about a tree spirit. His last name is Everleaf. I’ve also heard names of real people that I’ve simply fallen in love with like Salem Grimm. Fantastic! I collect these too even if to use the first name with another last name and vice versa.

Naming characters is a blast, and I do think that those names help me determine who that character is going to be in a story. I’m a writer who has to have the characters all named at the start of a tale, and I rarely change the name once the writing is underway. If you start out as Dale Ramsden Junior (from my book, Alaska Heart) on page one, you’re going to still be Dale Ramsden Junior on the last page. I promise.

What are some of your favorite characters’ names? Why do you like those? Would you rename yourself if you could? What would your new name be?

I'm giving away one free PDF of Alaska Heart to one lucky reader today. Leave a comment to be entered to win. Winner must supply email address.




Anonymous said...

I love naming characters. It's my favorite part of beginning a new manuscript and, like you, I try out the names to see how they fit. Sometimes I'll like a name but it won't mesh with the character and I have to discard it.

My hero's last name in my upcoming release is DeCardian. I'm not sure where I originally found it, but I love that name. It rolls from the tongue.

One of my favorite characters in fiction is Aloysius Pendergast, created by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. It sounds like a mouthful but when you know the character it fits him perfectly!

Fun post. I enjoyed it very much.

maeclair (at) maeclair (dot) com

Laura Breck said...

Chris, that's fabulous that characters introduce themselves to you. I've heard authors say that happens, but I've never experienced it.

My name, if I had a choice? When I was five, I asked my parents if I could change my name to Cinderella. Perhaps someday I'll take on a pen name. But what last name would go with Cinderella???

Great post. Thanks for sharing!

Margo Hoornstra said...

It's amazing how a name can make or break a character. And, as authors, we just know when the right one comes along. I, personally dislike my first name. As I child, I always wanted to be called Ronnie. Oddly, that is a derivative of my husband's name. Who knew?

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

Interesting post. I get many of my last names from the backs of football jersies. True. I keep a pad by my recliner and write down football and basketball players' last names that take my attention. I also do online searches. A name is so important to a character. Be careful, too, of how you name secondary characters for you never know when that minor character will come to you and say, "You know, I've got a story to tell, too."

For sure, if I could change my first name, I would. I've always hated Vonnie, but looks like I'm stuck with it.

Jannine Gallant said...

I use a baby name book to name my characters because I like the meaning of the name to have some relevance to the character's personality. For last names, I use the phone book. Usually I decide on a starting letter, then hunt until I find a name that fits. Great post. I like the town idea. As for my own name, does anyone actually like their own name? LOL

Christine DePetrillo said...

And the winner is: maeclair!

Sending you an e-copy of Alaska Heart! Thanks for commenting!


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much! I'm looking forward to an enjoyable read! :)