Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Nom du Nom

Inevitable progression from any discussion of character.
Names of characters.
Places, too.
They should be memorable and appropriate.
They should identify. Create expectation and reinforce certain images. Reflect and magnify like a mirror.
But, please, not too outlandish.
Exotic is nice and sometimes necessary, but watch it.
Else they fall into characture. Stereotype. In a two-deminsional way.
If I see one more hero named Blade or Blaze...
Someone bitched recently somewhere about 17th century high class heroes called Hunter and Forest, etc., pointing out with strained and bulging eyeballs that those were definitely lower class names related to occupations.
And I thought, dammit, girls, let them have it as a nickname, and let his normal name be William or Thomas or John or whatever was appropriate to the era.
We've all seen the sci-fi/fantasy criticism of Too Many Damned Apostrophes.
Falls under the Trying Too Hard Syndrome, I suppose.
Our goodman, James, calls his detective Tom Wiley. I missed it at first - consciously, that is.
That's one way of reinforcing a characteristic appropriate to the person.
The subject deserves more attention than it gets, in my opinion.
And more attention than simple sources for neat names.
One shouldn't just toss in Randy or Candy or Brandy without a thought beyond the superficial.
And I keep wondering if I've been too cute with "Miss Cheltingham."
Naturally, I'm sensitive to names and the visual image they may create. Though I have no idea what that image might be.
With a name like mine, wouldn't you be?
Does it color your reading of the blog? Your interpretation of my words and thoughts?
See?

31 comments:

James Goodman said...

Finding just the right name for a character is such a laborious task. I have been known to spend days walking around my house with a notepad, scribbling down names. As you said, you don’t want anything tired, but you don’t want to give your protag a name that will detract from their personality.

What is it that old Bill said? “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.”

I will have to call bull on this one. If a rose was named Sudden Death or some other ominous name, I would never get close enough to find out if it smelled sweet or not.

I'm just saying...

Sela Carsen said...

I'm name sensitive, too, but not obsessive. But if I see another Jake or Nick or Rock or Stone or Damien (Daemon, Demon, or variant thereof) or... well, there are some names I'm just tired of.

JR Ward had me rolling off the couch with her hero names -- Phury, Tohrment, Rhage, Zsadist, etc. It was hilarious, though I'm not sure she meant it to be. Once I got past the eye-rolling and the belly-laughing it turned out to be a fun story, but geez.

Bernita said...

Well, Sela, that was overt with a vengeance.
Like hitting a reader over the head with a 2x4 and saying, "did ya get it, huh? huh?"

Yep. That claim always bothered me too, James.I agree.

Now, James is such a Good Name.Strong. A James implies to me good masculine things.The added option of having other characters use variants of it towards a character thus named. But like many men's names has leaway to be either villain or hero.

Sela is a lovely name. Feminine.Glides on the ear. Different without affectation. A hint of tragedy. Makes me think of "selah" from the Bible which adds resonance and a certain mystery. Have you ever been tempted to use it for a character?

Sela Carsen said...

Nope. It's not my real name, which is quite dull by comparison, but I don't really know what kind of character I could think of that I would name Sela, so I took it for myself.

I have a heroine named Sabine -- she's the one who got the agent request. Well, she and her hero Willem. And I don't begin to know where I picked up his name. He's of Belgian descent, of all things. Strange.

James Goodman said...

But like many men's names has leaway to be either villain or hero.

Or the name of a chauffer, "Home, James" :D

I have never really considered my name to be strong or even definateively masculine. I always thought of it as a neutral or even safe name. Maybe that's just because I grew up with it.

Having said that, I know two, count them two, women named James that are the epitome masculinity. Go figure.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I've always been interested in the names of characters in the books I read, because the name always seems to fit the character....and then I named my protag Barbara....hmm, not much imagination there!

Maybe I should change her name. But I think it might make me think that I've killed someone!

Bernita said...

Bonnie, I thought Barbara suited her from what little I read.

Robin Caroll said...

I like odd names...gave them to my kids, bless their hearts, so I like the unusuals. I know, I know...I have to be different! LOL

Anna said...

I agree with Sela on the names -- can I join in a screaming chorus when next we see any of those?
There is, of course a sister list of heroine names I would pay cash money not to have to see for the coming year.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I'm with you goody, I've spent hours and even days agonizing over a name, playing with combinations.

Twice in a big project I've had to change the name of a major character and it was brutal. Took a complete re-write just to start getting the original name out of my system.

I also pick names I really like that my husband would never approve of for a child. Strange thing is, once he reads my stuff he starts getting used to the name and then he doesn't mind it so much anymore.

Bernita said...

I saved the unusual names for the childrens' second name, Robyn. So they could choose.Thought it was akin to laying a geas on them to stick them with an odd name for first. Fortunately they all like their names.
I'll join you, Anna.
Clever Sandra.Clever.
Maybe we should make up a list of names that have been Done to Death.

Bernita said...

Robin, Robin.
I am sorry, Robin.
~dammit, I hate it when I do that to someone's name~

Tsavo Leone said...

The issue of character names also cropped up on Miss Snarks's blog last month. They're strange things, dependant upon a great many things, not least of which is the context in which they're placed. Take, for instance, the name that you see at the top of this comment: Striking? Memorable perhaps? Bonnie once commented that it would make a good name for a (fictional) character... : )

I kind of collect names and, in some cases, their meanings and/or histories (for instance, whenever I hear the name James I mentally ricochet to the notion of 'the brother no one really talks about'). I also try and rationalise how a person's given name might be corrupted, so as to give a particular character a little more individuality and/or identity (e.g. W Marcus Calhoun, refers to himself simply as Calhoun, people shorten it to Cal).

For me the name of a character has to, first and foremost, 'sound' right, it has to have a certain poetry to it (a woman I work with refers to herself as Bally; her full name is Baljinder Bhamra, a Bangladeshi name which I think is beautiful). It might be governed by their ethnicity, their family history, their parents' religion. In the UK there are a whole generation of Jasons and Kylies, born in the late '80's, all due to an Australian soap opera. I'm sure the US will have a generation of Justins and Britneys for similar reasons.

There are precedents too: several famous serial murderers have had three-part names, as have famous assassins (e.g. Henry Lee Lucas, John Wayne Gacy, 'Ted' Bundy, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Wilkes Booth, Sirhan Bishara Sirhan)... is now a good time to mention that I have a middle name?

Candice Gilmer said...

I don't intend to name characters any certain way, the words just come to me.

One character, a young girl, was named Alie in a scifi story... I had planned on her being a "plant" for the bad guys, but I didn't realize until I submitted a portion to my writing group, that her name was literally
"A lie."

Interesting how that stuff works out...

M. G. Tarquini said...

The names of my MC's all mean something. Unfortunately, I forget what they mean. But they seemed profound at the time.

I want to be able to remember the name. So I choose names that people will recognize and be able to pronounce. This is especially important in stories with lots of characters.

In humor, all bets are off with character names. That's an open field and the funnier the better.

Bernita said...

Have I just been reprimanded for bringing up a topic perhaps more cleverly dealt with elsewhere?
I shall have to try to do better then.
Tsavo, many people on this side of the pond have more than one given name,some more than two, so I don't understand the reference to serial killers.Certainly when they were arraigned, their full name was given as identification and the tendency in print is to use the full name to avoid maligning innocents with the same first and last. Shiran Shiran, however, is usually referred to as just that,like Myra Hindley, and Bundy often by his last.
Many people quite disinclined to serial homicide use their full name or initial combinations.
But the basic point is good - giving a character the full name can work as a kind of "alert" to the reader that there's something significant about the character, even if he's minor and named John deGrille Porterhouse III.
Candace, you obviously have a writer's subconscious working quite nicely.
One doesn't always have to work in layers of meanings, but it is so cool when it happens.
One thing that is frustrating, M.G., is a cast of characters whose names sound or look too much alike and one has to flip back to figure out just who this person is and where they fit in the scheme of things.

Ric said...

Wow! See what happens when you go to work for the day? A really good conversation goes on and you miss it!

I get annoyed when people write about certain times and get the names wrong. Nobody born in 1950 is named Tayshon.

My own name (nickname)that it is lost its 'k' in high school where a fellow student was named Nic - short for Nicanor. At the time, it was brilliantly uncommon.

A writer friend said I should use my middle name for 'writing'. It is a family name (my uncle) and the origin is lost.

Great topic, Bernita.

M. G. Tarquini said...

One doesn't always have to work in layers of meanings, but it is so cool when it happens.
One thing that is frustrating, M.G., is a cast of characters whose names sound or look too much alike and one has to flip back to figure out just who this person is and where they fit in the scheme of things.


Yep, I try to make sure the MC's all have names that start with different letters of the alphabet and that the names sound substantially different - that keeps both phonetic and whole-language people happy.

I knew a person who was writing a greek thing. She started her book with a paragraph full of long greek names of people who were dead by the second paragraph. We all suggested to her that she needed to stick to just a couple of names in the beginning because there were so many strikes against her - long greek names, all starting with the letters 'AE' (No offense, AE Rought!).

We also suggested that she not name the dead people, because they were so many and they didn't show up again in the book even in flashback.

Tsavo Leone said...

Nope, no reprimand (if that was aimed in my direction), merely an observation on my part, as I'm thoroughly enjoying the 'company' of others and the 'conversations' we're having as relate to writing (and to other stuff too), especialy here.
Interesting point about Sirhan Sirhan et al, as it shows the cultural significance (or lack thereof) of a given person's name. It was actually an Austrailian in an American film that first commented on the three-name phenomena in serial killers/assassins, and it kind of stuck with me.

Bernita said...

Ric-nic, that is so frustrating - what IS your middle "family" name.
I thought of using my initials - then realized what they sounded like. B.H. Didn't figure I should shoot myself so directly.

I don't name minors who aren't going to appear again, M.G. It's just clutter.Poor kid. That's an excessive example of the beginner's syndrome of not starting a story where it should.

This so-called "phenomena" strikes me as pure bull - elementary logic failure, Tsavo. And yes, I did feel I was being reproved for being incestuous.. Happy it was not so.

archer said...

The absolute best villain's name in the world is unfortunately taken by a real person, Rupert Murdoch. It's got everything. It sounds like a hybrid of rip, rupture, robbery, rape, murder, doctor, and dark. It's even got a sinister Germanic glottal stop at the end.

Bernita said...

Is it a cultural thing?
I hear the name in broad Scots - and can't call up that degree of mayhem, but it is a strong name.
Course it could be subjective - have always liked Prince Rupert of the Rhine, so the name has gallant associations for me.

Ric said...

My middle name is Glyone.

My maternal grandparents were eighty years ahead of the strange trend of naming your children something off the wall. My Uncle Gly was as unique as his name.

Just can't imagine R. Glyone Marion on a book cover.

Not to mention I'm proud of my work and want MY name on it.

Bernita said...

Hmmm.
Makes me think of Guy Gavriel Kay.
I think it looks great.
I've got an Elva, an Inazelle, a Telos and a Merintha in my Tree, so perhaps your grandparents weren't so off the wall after all.
Someday I will get revenge and put them in a book.

Rowan said...

Fascinating conversation. I've named most of the main characters in my WIP, plus a good share of the secondaries, and I find it's the way the sound of the name rolls around the mouth in relation to my intentions with the character that kind of make it work or not for me. Plus trying to reflect certain cultural pronounciations is at play, though nothing crazy so as to distract the reader.

PS: I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to mercilessly loot those names you listed for possible use. You can never have too many interesting names when you write SF/F!

Bernita said...

Rowan, I'd be delighted.
~rubbing hands~
In fact, email me if you ever want more. I've got lots of strange sounding names, besides my own.

Gabriele C. said...

I have to find names for my characters that match the historical naming patterns. It's quite a bit of research, but fun. Though I tend to pick longer ones because I like names with several syllables. And there's the Roman tripartite names (fe. Caius Horatius Ravilla) and which one is used in what situation - not so complicated, actually, but it can confuse the reader.

Bernita will - hopefully *grin* - like my Mediaeval ones. I've got a Roderic Sinclair and his father Girart, there's an Everard and a Berenger around, an Estrild, the Norseman Kjartan Haraldsson, Alastair O'Duibhne (an Talla Dearg) and more.

Bernita said...

Yup, Gabriele, I likes 'em foine.
I tend to pluck them out of extant documents.

Mark Pettus said...

My characters change names during the writing process. The brothers in Transit Gloria started out as John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Four easy names to remember. In the final story there are only three brothers, and none of them are Beatles, although one of them is named John.

One minor character had three different names in the same draft, and in revision I gave him a fourth. Damian.

Sorry, Sela.

If it's any consolation, he's a gay waiter in 20th century Texas, not a hero in a 17th century colonial empire.

D. Day said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
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