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I've been thinking about names recently. Naming characters, to be precise, since I don't have any babies or puppies to name at present.

Mostly (for me) naming characters it is a bit like naming a baby or a puppy: you try to go with something fairly normal so they won't get beat up in the playground or sneered at while you're walking them in the park. And something nice. Something that suits them. So there's the Baby Names approach.

There's also the Dropping Hints approach. For instance, a character called Thomas Lynn is going to make me hold onto everything and wait for the Queen of Fairies to arrive. A girl called Ella mistreated by her family causes me to be on the lookout for fancy but fragile footwear.

These are the fairly unsubtle Dropping Hints names. There are also very cool Dropping Hints names. In Diana Wynne Jones's Howl's Moving Castle the wizard Howl is actually named Howell Jenkins, which tells us about his super-ordinary Welsh background, about the name he's chosen and how he wants to appear to people, the kind of person he is. About the name he hasn't chosen.

Those names are my favourite kinds of names. There's a girl in Demon's Lexicon called Mae, and she introduces herself by saying 'not like the month, like Mae West.' Which isn't just about spelling, of course.

We use names to make ourselves seem the way we want to be, and when we're making people up their names are important! They're our best label. (Plus, Mae West is really awesome. Everybody knows.)

There's also Naming Characters After People. I don't use real people's characters in my books (because they would yell, and sue me) but sometimes I do just need a name, any name! And then I pick one of my friend's names.

So one day the beautiful and talented Susan (one of the many beautiful talented people I have so unwisely chosen to associate with), my writing buddy in Ireland, veteran of many days in cafes with molten lava cakes and my friend since I was sixteen, said unto me accusingly: "You've never used my name in a story."

"No?" I said, a little startled. "Okay, well, I will!"

Some months later Susan called me.

SUSAN: So I was reading your story. And there was a Susan in it, all sexy, and much with the making out, just like me. And I was so pleased.
SUSAN: And then she turned out to be a transvestite explain yourself.
SARAH: Um. Um. Coincidence?

Speaking of Susan, she just scored her first book deal. If you guys would go congratulate her, that would make me very happy! (And might make up for the, uh, transvestite thing.)

Another instance of this is that I used the Durham Lass's real name in my book. And in my first draft, I killed her. She took this surprisingly well, and even agreed to move in with me.

My agent, however, was very set on saving the Durham Lass's namesake. And she was right, too, but we went back and forth on it a bit. There were several days which I spent pacing the floor fixing people with a beady eye and announcing darkly: "I must kill the Durham Lass. I must have blood."

The Durham Lass did not move out. I can only attribute this to an act of God.

So, how do you name yours?


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 27th, 2009 08:40 am (UTC)
...I think I may have missed the connection between real Susan and fictional Susan the first time I read this post. Because I could not possibly have laughed so hard over it if I already realised.

It is possible that this is because I just recently re-read the Susan scene. It is more likely that I laughed this hard to begin with, and just forgot about it.

Then, of course, there is compelling evidence that this is because the end of the university semester is sending me (more) insane. I need to stop reading this journal now, I think, because otherwise I will re-read the whole lot, and people involved in a group project expect me to walk on water and feed the thousands by tomorrow and will probably not be impressed by my explanation that I was re-reading LJ posts instead of writing the assignment.

Even brilliantly funny LJ posts like this.
Aug. 22nd, 2009 03:16 pm (UTC)
How do I name my characters.. How indeed.....
Well, I have huge huge HUGE trouble naming my characters... I'm like you in the sense that I try to name them something relatively normal, but sometimes normal... just doesn't work! I look through the baby names and pick something that suits the character as opposed to picking the name first.. It gets really annoying when I have to write 'she' or 'he' instead of names, or when I name a character something then go and decide five chapters in that the name doesn't suit him/her and go back and fix it. Or when I name a character something and take about three weeks to get used to the character having a name as opposed to being 'HE' or '_____'..... My friends often ask me to base characters on them, but I could never actually NAME the characters after the people they're based on... I'm sure I'd be thrown off Dun Laoghaire pier (Note to self: Do not agree to go to Dun Laoghaire with my friends, especially not at night....) or my hair torn out in the middle of the night or something equally unpleasant. (My friends can be kind of violent when they want to be!)

Sometimes I name characters after people in songs. I write to music - all the time, I was actually unable to write this without Paramore playing in my ears (loudly) - and sometimes when I listen to the lyrics properly, songs with people or places named in them carry a mood I'm trying to create, and I name my characters after them. Sometimes. Other times, that just doesn't work. Or I'll name characters after my favourite actors/actresses/musicians/writers, whatever comes. But I primarily name a character according to their personality as they first present themselves randomly in my hyperactive writer's mind, that - though young and undoubtedly foolish... - take over and refuse to leave my head until I give them a name....
(Oh, no... She's back... I really shouldn't think about She Who Refuses To Give Herself an Identity.... She won't leave now!!!)

~ Courtney Smyth
Aug. 22nd, 2009 06:08 pm (UTC)
Re: How do I name my characters.. How indeed.....
I was once dared to jump off Dun Laoghaire pier. I did, too. ;) Friends cannot be trusted...
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


Sarah Rees Brennan
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