THE NAMING OF THINGS.

Charming My Name!

Charming My Name! (Photo credit: jpellgen)

What do you call a forty-year old Gypsy who doesn’t exist, how about an abdicated queen with a sweet tooth or an assassin who never kills anyone?

Don’t know? – That makes two of us… (If you do know, suggestions welcome in the comments section. Full credit will be given in the book.)

The stories themselves are not an issue. Plots, themes and concepts tend to present themselves daily (I’m not gloating). It’s harder to keep track of them than to come up with them. There is always the part remembered good idea as you fall off to sleep. The plausible bridge in how a character has developed comes as your wrestling with early morning traffic both hands occupied and your notebook nowhere in sight.  I often find it difficult to reach for them again, as they fade into the other mental detritus of a work day or get overwritten by a new dream before waking.

But oh, for a name……. Why is it not so simple? My WIP now consists of a novel (nameless, half the characters called person a, b, etc.), two short stories (not so nameless but the characters don’t like their monikers: x. y and z). I thought I had found the perfect name for the book the other day only to discover that Ray Bradbury had got there first. Damn, those iconic fantasy authors with their striking and memorable titles!

Perhaps it’s because I have always associated characteristics with names. In my head, a “Jane” or a “John” acts like personal experiences made flesh. Any other traits or emotional effects/defects seem out of character somehow. Like there is a frozen vision of Jane, residing in my brain and now all beings bearing that appellation have to fit with my mental image.

I read a funny review the other day, where the reader had loved the book but couldn’t give it five stars because one of the characters is Kevin, and they didn’t think it was a proper name for a medieval swords and sorcery fantasy… I wonder what the Author was thinking when picking that name? – Crap, I’ve used all the unpronounceable ones, sod it, let’s just call him Kev? I’m surprised he wasn’t a “Dave”, after all, everyone knows someone called Dave or so the story goes.

So what is it about names and titles that resonates so strongly. More importantly how do you name?… Is it a flash of inspiration the name appearing in your mind’s eye? Do they look like a “Insert Name” in your head?

Comments as always, welcome.

23 thoughts on “THE NAMING OF THINGS.

  1. Names can be hard until you stumble on the right one, and then they are so obvious that you wonder why you didnt know them before. Sometimes i get a name first which suggests a character, sometimes i get the charcter first and it takes me getting to know them to find out what they are called.
    for what its worth, my suggestion:
    Gypsy: Carmen? Carmella?
    Queen Marlena?
    The assassin: Harvey? always haunted by the fact he shares a third of a name with Lee Harvey Oswald who was an infamous assassin but may or may not have ever killed anyone…

    • also, NEVER have two characters whose names start with the same letter. too much chance for confusion when the reader is getting to know them if they have to keep remembering which one was MIchelle and which was Melanie. Unless you want that to be part of your plot of course….

      • Thanks RG, some really good advice here. I love the Harvey, then I was thinking Oswald…. quite like that one…Too obvious? Maybe.. But I like it. I’ll let you know. Great tip about the same letter. Names never appear for me, not sure why? I’ve started using Scriveners feature but for some reason it feels a bit like cheating.

  2. Ooh lovely! Just been writing about names on another blog. Love to give names that have hidden meanings, sometimes maybe only I get what they are.
    Genre matters the most. I imagine this is Fantasy, so I offer the following which you may dismiss with impunity, but they are sent with love.
    Your non-existent gypsy – what about Desiree? As in desire as in fantasise.
    Or Caprice, which means playful.
    The gentle assassin? Tempero, as in temperate and kind, or go to the other extreme and call him Seton, a sort of audible pun on Satan.
    Your abdicated queen with a sweet tooth sounds fascinating and quite bonkers, so not sure what I would do with her. I think I’d probably go with something pretty like Queen Violet, or to the other extreme and call her something obviously potty like Queen Lemonia Sherbet.
    Well, that was fun! If you don’t like my suggestions, I quite understand.
    Thank you for a good game and Good luck coming up with some nice names.

    • Pat, these were lovely thank you! The Gypsy is a man but I like Desiree and Tempero has real potential. The Queen is a really hard one. Thank you very much for commenting. I’m going to check out your names post, too.

  3. If this a fantasy..?? I tend to like fantasy sounding names…
    Queen: Marbeth(eia)
    Gypsy: female or male..??? Maybe..Coron (male) or Delia or Delphi (female)
    Assassin: Radole or Radoll or maybe Talbrok
    Hmmm…

    • Thanks Howard, okay I am going to steal at least a couple of the names provided for other characters. Marbeth, I think I’m going to have as one of the Younger Gods (Full credit in the book my friend). Coron is great as well and will probably get used but not for the Gypsy. These were excellent suggestions. When you write fiction, how do you name? I’d be very interested.

      • Hi S.J…..
        Naming is one thing with which I have had few issues. Generally I try to break down the process with a pencil and paper by mapping out a “truth set” that will match the work. I usually start with the setting (time AND place..). This lets me see what if any adaptation I will need to make to modern English to fit into the setting. If the work is other worldly (usually only sci-fi or fantasy..) I note where it is in relation to modern earth and what languages are spoken there (in addition to English..). I list all of the characters chronologically, note the gender, and mark the leads, male and female. (This is important to me because I have found on a couple of occasions where characters were way out of balance…male vs. female…..It’s okay as long as you have planned it that way, but believe me it can be a shock if you suddenly discover that 70% of your characters are female in a novel about waging war somewhere.!!). As I list the characters, I also write about one sentence describing who they are and what they do in the work. (In a lot of societies, names are derivations of occupations..). I guess that’s about the gist of it. I try to always keep in mind that character names are frequently more remembered than titles or authors. I will never use a modern sounding name for a character if it doesn’t fit well with the setting. So, I seldom use modern naming conventions such as lists or books of baby names. Usually only the most current ones are listed anyway. As a final test, I will research my possible names to see if they tread too heavily on other characters in similar style works.

        Just for fun, take a few minutes and write down some of the most vivid character names you can remember. If you are working on a fantasy, limit yourself to names from fantasy works. ie…don’t write down characters from “Gone With the Wind..” if you are writing a space odyssey or a saga from middle earth. My guess would be that no one will forget Bilbo Baggins, or Gollum, or Gandolph, or Frodo, or Orcs, or Ringwraiths, or Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever….or myriads of other equally famous characters. Why?? Because their names won’t let us forget them. (In this case this is especially true if you have read any of J.R.R. Tolkien or Steven Donaldson or ……..

        In modern works where characters evolve from today’s earthbound settings, say within a couple of hundred years, I wouldn’t hesitate to consider more current names. However when settings approach fantasy realms or other worlds or parallel existences where things can be turned upside down…modern naming conventions go out the window.!!

        Don’t know if that answered your question or not….It’s about the only way I can explain my process. It usually comes pretty easy to me, so I have not really considered using a “method.” This would be pretty typical though…..

        Be well,
        Howard

  4. Naming is the hardest part for me! Especially titles. I generally wait for inspiration to strike. That’s worked pretty well, actually. I don’t usually have the story named until after it’s finished. Sometimes I’ll do lists of word associations (i.e. a story about the Nephilim, and obvious word association is Angels, and the plot focuses around a major storm, therefore, it is now called Tempest of Angels).

    Character names….ah. I’ll usually use a baby naming site and search for names that mean a certain trait of that character (if loyalty is the motivating force of the character, I’ll search for names meaning loyal). This usually yields a name that “speaks to me.” Or sometimes I’ll just page through a naming book and write down anything that grabs me.

    • I’ve heard about using Baby Names books/sites. I’m so pleased it’s not just me that sometimes struggles to come up with them. I quite like the word association way you come up with titles, I’ll definately keep it in mind. Thanks for the tips!!

  5. They sit around in my head for awhile and just when I am at my wits end they tell me their name. Last names are harder. I look at the credits at the end of movies for something different.

    • Bugger, I’d forgotten about last names. Well, not exactly forgotten just stick behind something mentally obscuring it from view. I love the credits idea, that’s just GENIUS! Mind if I steal this?

  6. I wonder about that when I watch television, too – sometimes characters have really great names, and sometimes you just think, really? An entire writing staff and that’s the best you can come up with?

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