Welcome to the official blog of Maumee Valley Romance Writers of America! We're a local writers' group in the Toledo, Ohio area. Most of us write romance, but we also have members who write other genres too. New members are always welcome to visit or join the group. See the meetings page for details. We post every Monday and Friday about all things book-related. Whether you're a writer, reader, or both, we hope you'll stop by often and get to know our dozen contributors.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Name? What do you mean Naked Guy needs a name?

This past week, I finally got down to business naming a few of the secondary characters in my current work-in-progress. When I’m writing the early draft of any story, I usually put in a descriptor for minor characters until I have time to consider an actual name.

For example, a guy just coming out of the showers in a locker room was Naked Guy.

A main character’s friend whom he worked with was Editor Friend.

A possible witness to a crime who also happened to be selling drugs was Drug Guy.

Sometimes that descriptor even ends up in the final version of the manuscript since the character is so minor he or she doesn’t need a name. Lately though, I seem to keep using these descriptors for many of my characters through draft after draft. Perhaps it’s because I need to make sure they’re going to stick around or wait until I get a sense of their personality before I take the time to properly name them.

In my current WIP, Naked Guy is actually going to stay Naked Guy since he’s barely there for long, but if the character is going to be in more than one or two scenes, I’ll go ahead and give him name.

When naming a character, I usually do and consider several things:
  1. I check baby name resources such as books and websites for name ideas. (I’ve provided a list of the ones I like to use at the end of this post). A baby name website is a great way to get a list of names that match specific criteria. Sometimes I know I want a name to start with a certain letter and that it should be a simple name, maybe only one or two syllables long, and several of the baby sites I use allow for these kinds of searches. Whereas a baby name book is a great way to browse for names when I have no idea what I want to use.
  2. One rule I try to follow is that the character name (both first and last) should not start with the same letter as a major character and, if at all possible, another minor character in the same story. I truly believe this helps readers keep characters straight when they first start a story, especially if the story contains many characters introduced early on.
  3. I look for a name that means something relevant to the character or that has a certain sound to it that works well (or in direct contrast) with the character’s personality. In my current manuscript, I had a tough guy and I wanted a non-tough-guy sounding name. This disparity was something that was actually mentioned in the story, so I had to look for names that didn’t sound like they fit him, or at least that he thought didn’t fit him.
  4. When I find a name I’d like to use, I check my name spreadsheet that has a list of character names from all my novels and short stories. I try not to use the same name or similar names that I’ve used somewhere else. And trust me, I forget what I've used where. Before I started double checking, I had two Michaels and two Marks.
Yes, this all proves how anal I can be about my story prep, while at the same time I let certain things wait until they feel right (perhaps I'm similar to the personality type Tracy mentioned she tested as in her last post).

I tend to go with simple names that are short on syllable length. Somehow, that just seems to work for my style of writing and what I like to read.

As a reader, what’s important to you in a character name? Something that fits his or her personality? Something relevant to the story or where the character comes from? Something you like the sound of?

For writers or parents-to-be: here are a few naming resources I’ve found helpful: 
Sloan Parker has been writing and playing with fictional characters for years but finally found true passion sharing stories about two men (or more) falling in love. Sloan loves to explore the lives of people who are growing as individuals while falling in love. You can learn more about Sloan and her work at www.sloanparker.com.


Patrice Kavanaugh said...

Great post, Sloan. And thanks for the references. For my last wip, I had to search for names for characters who live in Cuba. That was fun. And several drafts into the writing, I realized my main female character and one of the main female villains both had names that started and ended with "a"! Oops. Had to fix that!

Tracy Madison said...

I love your post, Sloan! Unlike you, I have to name characters as soon as they're on the page (unless, of course, they're so minor, they don't need to be named).

Also, you mentioned one of my favorite resources for names: The Baby Name Wizard. I LOVE this book. I love how there are lists in the back sorted by "feel," such as "Brisk and Breezy," but also by time period "Mid-Century America," and a host of other categories. I also love that each name in the main portion of the book gives ideas for sibling names that go with that particular name.

One of my methods for naming characters is the actual sound of the name. For example, in my current WIP, my heroine's name is Daisy and my hero's sister's name is Haley. That's two "eee" sounds, so I'm trying not to name any other characters with that sound.

Geez, I could comment longer, but this is already almost a post. LOL. But I love talking about names!

Constance Phillips said...

Wonderful post, Sloan. Naming characters is always a big deal and I'm so pleased you gave me a few new resources.

You shared your spreadsheet idea with me awhile ago and I've started one. My favorite names would be over-used otherwise.

Sloan Parker said...

Patrice: Thanks! Sounds like you had fun with the name research. Good catch on your main female/villain names sounding the same. I think those are definitely two people who should have distinct names.

Tracy: That book is awesome. I use the lists in the back quite a lot, and I like the little chart with each name for popularity. That's a great point about the sound of the name, not just what letter they start with. I love that you get your character names all sorted out right away. That'll be my goal for my next project.

Constance: Glad my spreadsheet idea was of some help to you. I'm so forgetful that I have to use something like that. Thanks for checking out the post!