Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Name Game

I promise, this is not another blog about Stewart Granger. But . . . remember a couple weeks ago when I talked about him? I was happy to report that TCM, the cable channel, was celebrating Stewart Granger month and showing all his movies.

Well, the ultimate Stewart Granger movie (at least in my mind) topped off the celebration for me–Prisoner of Zenda, my all-time favorite.

I mention this because the movie aired earlier this week and this week, I’ve been working like a dog on the proposal for a new mystery series.

Yes, these two things are actually is all related.


Here’s the thing . . . I wrote the original proposal a couple months ago, but after visiting DC a few weeks ago and plotting a murder at Mt. Vernon (that was fun!), I decided to make a few changes. So I figured I’d just go back, change this, adjust that.

Until I realized I now have a dark and dangerous hero type who needed a name. No big deal, right? Wrong! For reasons I can’t explain, that hero insisted that his name be Levi. But my protagonist was already Lexy. Levi and Lexy. Way too confusing. I had to change her name
and . . . well, I won’t go into the many incarnations or how I finally came up with her name (Mel, short for Mary Ellen), but I will say that this name game is tricky.

You don’t want names like I had, two that begin with the same letter of the alphabet, especially for main characters.

You don’t want names that have the same ending sound, either, like Dori, Carrie, Stacie.

You don’t want names that are so old-fashioned that they sound funny (unless there’s a need in your story for such a name) or ones that are so new, they couldn’t possibly belong to your 30-year-old character.

It goes on and on, and I found myself spending the better part of the week, baby name book at hand, changing the names of major characters, minor characters and everyone in between.
And then I watched Prisoner of Zenda. And I realized that Anthony Hope (the author of the book on which the movie is based) had two Rudolphs and a Rupert in his story, major characters all.


Did I waste my time this week? I don’t think so. My characters are happy with their monikers and I think I’ve made it so readers won't be confused. Apparently, though, not all writers think the same way (Anthony Hope for instance).

What kind of name games have you played with your characters? And have you seen instances of naming in books that’s left you confused?


Venus Vaughn said...

I think making changes like you did are a matter of consideration to your reader.

When I read a book with a Lexy and a Levi and a Louis with a Lesli thrown in for spice, it makes my eyes cross and slows down my reading. It actually makes me angry at the author once I figure out why I haven't been able to imprint on any of the characters.

There are enough names in the world to give main characters separate and distinct names. And when an author makes a habit of noticing how names help inform the reader they get to do things like use them to name a slew of ex-girlfriends Candi, Keri, Kelli, and Calli - just to show how indistinct their personalities are.

So, yeah... good going on the name changes. :-)

Hilda said...

Well, I'm not a published writer or anything but I do enjoy writing novels. Naming my characters is surprisingly one of the hardest parts of writing to me.
It's tricky to find good names that go well with the characters... I usually plan out a Google search. There are tons of names going on around the net. I base the search depending on my character's background. For example, if it's a vampire and he was born in the 18th century, then I look for good names used in that time. It takes a little time but it's the most efficient way I've found so far.

Have a great weekend.


Colleen said...

Each name has a flavor for me. The way your mouth moves making it, any "baggage" I might still be carrying around from someone I knew with that name, even the way the name presents itself on the page.

I just had to name the love interest in my current project. I needed a name that didn't end with an "ee" sound (Carry, Mary, Jule, etc), was round in the middle, had a bit of a mouth to it - so you could say it slowly - and did not begin with an M, N, D, or S. And it had to sound vaguely Egyptian.

My solution? Rabiah. (Rab-eye-ah) But there were a whole lot of considerations that made that a difficult decision to make! I think that's why, once my characters are named, they don't generally have their names changed. I usually even know what nicknames they're going to get, if any.

Casey said...

So true! Choosing character names sounds like something that would be fun--and easy. But as you've all pointed out, there are pitfalls everywhere! It's not easy. And Hilda, you mentioned finding names for historical characters. Do you know about the Social Security name index? You can find it if you google social security and baby names. It goes back to 1876, I think and you can put in the year and find out the most popular baby names for that year. Fun to see how names have changed over the years!