Monday, December 13, 2010

the name of the rose

I have always loved names. And I have always wanted to be named something else. I’m glad I don’t have a common name but I wish my not so common name was prettier, more interesting. Eleanor has been my favorite for the longest time. I know, it’s terribly old-fashioned, but I still love the name and I gave it to one of my favorite characters who – unfortunately – is still languishing in a wip I may never finish (another historical romance set in the era of clipper ships, a fascination I once entertained). I do, however, think my feelings around my own name have made me careful in choosing the names of my characters. After all, I don’t want to burden them – as I feel I have been burdened – with a name that doesn’t fit. It has to be the right name, a name that sounds like the character, a name at ease in its surroundings, a name that brings to mind a glimmer of who the person is before you, the reader, gets to know them.

Here are a few examples from my own (completed) works that I hope illustrate what I’m talking about:

In Almost Paradise I wanted to recreate the old west from the perspective of people from the future. My two main characters had to have timeless names that work in our future, or back in 1881 where most of my tale takes place. Jack and Katherine worked perfectly. But I also had to choose names that sounded as though they belonged in 1881, hence Jim Woolbridge and Larry Sweet, my Pinkerton detectives. Larry’s the well-dressed one.

In Grimoire, which takes place in an alternate 1806, I had to have unique names for my witches – like Yvette for the queen, Adrian Sinclair or Lord Wyndham, and Cato, the adept. I also needed names that fit the period, hence Clarissa deVere, the daughter of the Earl of Oxford, Lady Ann North, and Mrs. Fitzherbert, The Prince Regent's first wife. As for Arlen, I found her name in my Character Naming Sourcebook. It means ‘oath.’

Lastly, I’ll mention The Way to Dendara, in which Lucy, a young librarian with bad dreams and a tragic past suddenly finds out she belongs someplace completely different. I gave Lucy a fairly ordinary name but one which I like because it always reminds me of the spunky Lucy Pevensie – although my Lucy has a darker side to her. The rest of the names, however, needed to belong in Dendara, my imaginary world. Hence we have:

Corliss; Queen of Dendara
Bertrade; a troll and a battle maid
Lilka; expert at the Kazmirez, a troll game (also Bertrade’s daughter)
Llew; a claimant to the throne
Vinn; a claimant to the throne
Zhora; a sorceress
and Kunagnos; the Wisest of the Wise

Names are fun and I have to admit this is one of my favorite parts of creating. I love choosing just the right name for the person or place, be it a real or imaginary. I love learning about the meaning of names, their origins, and see them in their different forms. My favorite name, Eleanor, means light and can be spelled many ways, depending upon the country of origin. In French it’s Elinore, Greek Eleanore, Gaelic Eilionoir, and Elena in Spanish.

How about you? How do you choose a name?


  1. I love picking names for my characters. I try to be sensitive to the time period/place, like you, and sensitive to what "feels" right for the character. Meanings behind the name can sometimes have a lot to do with why I choose it too. Very rarely, a character will come to me with a name already.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on naming characters!

  2. Sometimes I just make them up. I take a word or name and switch out a few letters, and if I like it, it stays! Otherwise, they just come to me. Like Polly, or Anna.You never know.

  3. I have such a tough time picking names and I tend to change them all the time (which really makes things confusing in later drafts when I've forgotten I've changed them). For some reason, names just don't come easy for me! For minor characters, I've resorted to the phone book. (Yes, sad, I know.)

  4. Jennifer, I sometimes watch the credits at the movies to get6 ideas for names - not too different than using the phone book really.

    Lydia, I like your idea for taking a word or name and mixing it up.

    Shallee, yes, meanings are definitely important - thanks for commenting!


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