The Name Game

I'll admit it: I'm incredibly fussy about naming characters. Maybe it's due to my OCD, or maybe it's something a lot of writers go through, but I tend to agonize far more over the naming process than I should. The character's name not only has to fit them, but it has to fit in with the characters surrounding it.

FOR EXAMPLE: Friday Night Lights is one of my favorite television shows of all time (of all time!!! /kanye), but there is one thing that bugs me a little. In the first three seasons, two of the female characters, one a cheerleader do-gooder type and the other a "bad girl," were named Lyla (left) and Tyra (right).

It always annoyed me a tiny bit that on a show dominated by male characters (though there are some female characters-- and they're all written so amazingly it makes up for the inbalance), the writers would name the two girls so similarly. Tyra and Lyla almost rhyme! It just seemed kind of... lazy. Of course, the fact that something so tiny is what I point out as a "flaw" speaks to how awesome the show is (seriously, if you haven't seen it, go out and marathon the first four seasons-- they're all amazing and some of the best television ever, and I say this as someone who doesn't care at all about football).

Anyway, in the early, early, early stages of SAVING JUNE, my idea was for the characters to be Melanie (Mel), Toby, and Laney. (June was always June.) And then I realized there was no way that would work. All those names end with long e-sounds. And then I realized "Toby" was just the wrong name altogether, so I threw it out and replaced it with Jacob (Jake), a name I've always loved, and I thought it sounded perfect with the last name Tolan, too. By that point I'd decided to nix Melanie in favor of Harper, something a little more unique and also more fitting for the character. I loved the name Laney and knew I didn't want to change it. I got all of the first name stuff worked out before I started my first draft.

In the first draft, Harper and June's last name was Green. I liked it well enough, but then someone critiquing my query letter pointed out that June Green as a full name was rather... flat. And they were right. I hadn't even thought about it. June Green is a terrible name (if your name happens to be June Green, I apologize-- it's not that bad, just bad for the character I was writing). So I tried a few variations, and knowing I wanted to keep a one syllable last name, threw Scott in there and it stuck.

For my second book, THE REDEMPTION OF CHELSEA KNOT, I started off with just a name. Chelsea Knot. I had it in my head for a long time and loved it. I could envision the character perfectly, I just had to figure out what to do with her. Some of the other characters in that book, however, had their names changed. A lot. And not just before/after, but as I was writing it. Only a few never went through any name changes, first and/or last.

It's not just about coming up with names I love, it's the mixing and matching within the story. I'm careful not to have character names in the same book sound too alike (honestly, I tend to avoid having two different character names start with the same letter, even). Like, I love the name Carter, but Jake couldn't have been Carter because you can't have Harper and Carter sharing scenes for the majority of the book. I also avoid names that end with the letter S, for no other reason than the possessive apostrophe rule bothering me. (Yes, I know what the rule is, but it still bugs, so I avoid.)

Sometimes when I'm looking for name ideas, I look to songs/movies/literary/pop culture references I like for inspiration. (Without going overboard-- I once read a book set in the 70's where the protagonist was named Elizabeth Bennet. She talked about how her parents had named her after the Jane Austen character. The name didn't have any relevance to the story or serve any function, so I guess the author just thought it was cutesy or something? IDK, it came across as lame to me. No one is going to be remembered as Elizabeth Bennet aside from THE Elizabeth Bennet, so doesn't it set your character up for a letdown from the start?) (Or I could just be crazy.)

Other times I'll Google for baby name websites and go from there. I do have a file of names (both first and last) I love that once in awhile I'll add to or pull from. I personally gravitate toward J names (too much so) and last names as first names (Harper, Carter, Jackson, Addison, Mason, etc).

So in conclusion... I'm really neurotic when it comes to naming characters? Haha. I am curious though to know what other people's naming processes are, and whether other people put this much thought into them. I'm sure I'm not the only one.


Anonymous said...

All I have to say is: me too. I obsess. I have lists. And I have like twelve baby name websites bookmarked. Names are so important. /End nerdiness.

sarah said...

While I don't have specific lists, I do know that names are important to me when reading and they do affect how I view a character. Particularly with nicknames and whether they relate to the person's original name. Seeing as I grew up with a simple and common name (Sarah), but called Crash by my mum since toddler-dom, Weenie by my brother since... I'm not sure when, Nicole my my pop since forever, and Scream by my friends from the age of 14, names mean a lot to me and definitely have altered as I have changed too.

I did actually notice while reading Saving June that the names were really easy to distinguish between, nice and different, a great mix of common and uncommon. A huge leap from just finishing the full saga by Tamora Peirce in Tortall, where there was a Roaul, and a Roald, a Gary, who was the son of Gareth, and various other names which overlapped greatly. But that also came with the era she was writing in.

While I commend you being so picky about your names, sometimes it will be necessary and work better to have some similar names. My aunt named her kids Alison and Ashely. Another named hers Dean and Dale. They wanted my mum to call my brothers Mathew and Mitchell (she didn't, it's Mat and Jeff thankfully). But my point is, names do over lap and sometimes when you build a larger cast of characters it will be alright to have names mingling, that's where nicknames are great. And can be a great way to introduce a bit of back story for some characters.

Anyway, I'm rambling, it's late and I have class tomorrow. ^^ Just wanted to say that I love that you put this much effort into just naming your characters, and a lot of people out there are like that. It definitely shows through in the story, because if that's how you are with names, then that's how you are will all of the story and characters. I adored reading Saving June, and as a girl from Australia who never had an interest in seeing America, I think I'd half think about it now. In the very least I think I'm going to talk my boyfriend into a road trip before he leaves for the army in August.

My teachers may be angry at me this week for not having spent so much time this weekend on homework but that six hours straight of reading was totally worth the rollercoaster of angst, happiness and mystery that was Saving June.

Much love from a random Australian gig chick.

coookiezandcream said...

You haven't posted anything on your blog for a year but I just read your book, "Saving June" and I absolutely loved it. For a first time author you wrote better than some fifth time authors. I loved it and I felt that everything fit in so well, I was never left wondering (like I do with some books) would those characters really say that? Would that really happen? I like the way the characters were slowly introduced to us, you find out a little bit at a time. Can't wait to read your next book!

Kelly said...

Harper and Jake were far better choices. I'm the same way. I've been working on this book for a while now and I've changed the MC's name at least five times: Leigh, Layla, Leela, (obviously I love "L" names) and settled on Isi. It just fits her better.

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