The Silver Lining | Monday Musings: Naming Characters

Monday Musings is a weekly event hosted by Jen HayleyShana Silver, and Chandler Craig that highlights some aspect of the writing life. Short on blog topics? Everyone is welcome to participate. All we ask is that you link to one of our posts and leave your link in the comments. We’ll provide the following week’s topic by Wednesday of each week.

TODAY’S TOPIC: NAMING CHARACTERS

So, I have issues with names. I hated my first name growing up. It was extremely common and I wished my parents had switched my names so my middle name was first. In college, I had a clean slate. I told people to start calling me my middle name, and I’ve gone by Shana ever since.

I realize I’m not naming children when I name characters, and changing their name is as simple as FIND AND REPLACE and not, you know, contacting the Social Security office. But I still go through major stress trying to find the right name.

I have several different methods of finding names. They are as follows

The character shows up already named

Sometimes a name and personality comes to me fully formed, such as was the case with a trunked novel of mine called RHTHYM AND CLUES where the protagonist nicknamed herself Moxie because she hated her plain real name (writing from experience? what?). With a name like Moxie you have to have a feisty personality, and oh, she did. From the first moment she showed up in my head demanding I write her story.

The character inherits their name from someone else

I contrasted Moxie with a quiet and reserved love interest who wanted the guts to form a band (against his parents wishes). Since he was a musician, I named him after the musician I was in love with in high school, Gavin Rossdale of Bush fame.

Like Gavin, sometimes I choose names that are homages to people. They don’t have to be people I know. Like my mom’s friend’s daughter is named Lara. I’ve never met her but I LOVED the name so I used that name for the sister of one of my protagonists. Corey, the love interest of my college-set book is named for my sister’s middle name, which is Cory. The protagonist of that college-set novel used to be Mandie, which was the name of my imaginary friend when I was kid. I named a villain in one of my books Josh, after my husband, only because he wanted a character named after him and I decided it would be way more fun to make him a villain!!! To bad that character is getting the ax in my next revision.

The character requires an extensive name hunt

But usually names don’t come to me so easily. Usually I have to seek them out by pouring over hundreds of baby name websites. The protagonist of THE ART OF SELLING MY SISTER got her name thanks to a random name generator.

I kept refreshing to see what names it would come up with. Kasey (in a few different spellings) kept coming up and catching my eye. I decided the name was calling to me, and it was. It is so perfectly her name.

My name search isn’t always successful. A few years ago for nanowrimo I tried to write a paranormal book involving Greek mythology. I couldn’t decide on a protagonist name. I tried several. I wrote portions of the first draft with the protagonist named Eleni and portions with the protagonist named Leda. Those names were both of Greek origin and just weren’t working for me. I tried non-Greek names like Tabitha and Aubrey. Eventually I had to stop writing because without a concrete name, I couldn’t pinpoint her personality. I kept changing that too and eventually lost sight of her, and the story. So I trunked this book part way through the first draft.

The character has a name I can’t change

This whole name debacle really stressed me out and it’s one of the things that led to me writing retellings. Because I had no choice about names. You can’t have an Alice In Wonderland retelling and not name the protagonist Alice. Though I did fight it during the first draft. All the secondary characters had different names that were unrelated to the original book. Eventually I gave in and changed the names to more thoroughly match the book.

The character has a name I like but it must change

Often times, I pick a name and like it, but my betas come back and tell me it’s a bit confusing. For example, Arielle became Laci in one book because the name Arielle was too similar in length to other characters in the same story. In the first draft of my ALICE retelling, I based the White Rabbit character off a really quirky character from a short story I wrote that I never sold. The short story had nothing to do with Alice, but during the first draft of my retelling, I kept the character named Kayla so it would help me keep her consistent while I wrote. Clearly that wouldn’t work for a retelling so I eventually had to rename her Whitney. At first I hated it but now I can’t imagine her as anything else! The love interest at first was based off the Gryphon and slightly off the cheshire cat, so I named him Griffin Katz. I liked it but I eventually changed the Gryphon scene to not include his character and in my revisions he ended up embodying way more of the cheshire cat traits. So I changed his name to Chester “Chess” Katz and it works MUCH much better.

The character gets his name as a result of something book related.

Speaking of love interests…

Once I get the protagonist’s name and her personality, I can usually find a love interest name to match. I also usually know his personality before I figure out his name so it’s easier. And I’m only attracted to a select type of male protagonist names so I know which names to avoid. Finn was Kasey’s love interest and he got his name because she has an irrational fear of fish. His name provided me so opportunity for humor in the book.

Future character names…

The retelling I’m currently revising had less leeway with the names than Alice so I didn’t have much to argue and fight on. But I’m simultaneously outlining a non-retelling. Two actually. And guess what? In one of those outlines, the characters still don’t have names even though I have most of the plot worked out.

Sigh. Looks like I have hours of baby name searching ahead of me!

How do you name your characters?

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