Wednesday, October 13, 2010

FAQ - Names

Q: How do authors decide on names for characters?  For example, in OLD WOUNDS, where did the names "Bib"  and “Moon”  come from?  Are names meant to symbolize the character and if so how?

 A: Basically, for me the name just needs to be believable. It may or may not carry symbolic weight. (I'm not writing Literature - just popular fiction.) 

I chose my protag's name rather quickly (when I took the one and only class that got me into writing mysteries) since I've always liked Elizabeth as a woman's name because of its many permutations. My Elizabeth is also called Liz, Lizzy, Lizzie Beth, 'Lizbeth, etc, depending on who's talking to her. 

 Goodweather was chosen partly to denote Elizabeth's generally optimistic attitude and partly because I liked the sound of it. (I considered Merriweather but that seemed a little too sweety-sweet.) But in general I don't use names that are symbolic for fear of sounding ridiculous. Phillip Hawkins sounds strong to me (Phillip of Macedonia, Hawkins, the Elizabethan privateer come to mind) but no way would I have given him a name like Manly Armstrong or Peter Steele.

Bib -- this is funny. I was going to call the guy Big Something or other and the first time I typed it, I hit b instead of g. Liked the looks of it and that's where Bib came from. If I had to defend it as a believable choice, I could spin a tale about it being a childhood nickname and having something to do with bib overalls. There’s a guy living near us who’s known as Slab, I think from a nickname.

The book OLD WOUNDS grew out of my seeing the name Maythorn somewhere and immediately wanting a character named Maythorn.  One could make an English-major kind of argument for the name Maythorn containing both a gentle (May) and harsh (thorn) element, but this one won't; I just liked the name. 

The idea of pairing the lovely name Maythorn with a kind of pedestrian-sounding name like Mullins also appealed to me. Then Mr. Mullins needed a first name. Many of you are undoubtedly far too young to remember this but there was once a comic strip called "Moon Mullins." It seemed reasonable to me that this fella might have picked up Moon as a nickname when he was very young. No symbolism intended.

Back to Maythorn: A student once pointed out the Rosemary Maythorn connection (rose thorn) which is a good call on her part – even though it was inadvertent on my part. Someone else pointed out a thing I did do on purpose. Maythorn’s real name is Mary Thorn: hence Rosemary/ Mary Thorn which strengthens the girls’ blood sister bond in that they share a name.

But many of my names, probably most of them -- Asheley, Krystalle, Jared, for example -- are just representative of what seem to be popular names at a particular time, in a particular place. I have spent time in the Records office of our county, writing down names from various time periods that caught my fancy. I also pay attention to obituaries and note down interesting names.

And some names are there because their owners won a raffle or something where I promised to use the name they asked me to. Ronnie Winemiller, James Suttles, Lee Palatt are three that come to mind.
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16 comments:

Joan said...

This is so interesting. I love thge character Elizabeth. I feel quite an affinity to her. Really into the book just now. Loving it.

Julienne said...

How fascinating. some tima ago I finished reading a book that became so difficult in the end that I will never recommend it to anyone, even though the story itself was very good.

Problem was all her males names started with Ps and all the females were Millies, Tillies and Hillies!!!!

Had absolutely no idea who was who and had to keep going back to check.

This book made me realise just how important characters names were.

So glad you don't name them Manly or Steele!!!!

Martin H. said...

Sometimes the truth is stranger...etc , etc. In the course of my family history research, I've discovered that it was common for a son's middle name to be his mother's maiden name. For instance, I've found a Frank Pitman Hodges and a John Sansom Gregory. Best of all is Wellington Windust Light.

Merisi said...

Interesting! :-)

Elizabeth is my favorite name, after all it is my sisters.

Moon Mullins and Gasoline Alley! ;-)

Merriweather is forever tied to Post, Merriweather Post (Pavillon, to add one more association - heard it once to often mentioned in DC area traffic reports).

What's in a name, the Word Verification Box thought,
and put up "poetbr" - how is that? ;-)

Merisi said...

My "sister's" - sorry!

Pat in east TN said...

Very interesting.

I had a neighbor once named Maythorn .. a name I had never heard before and quite a special lady.

Brian Miller said...

ha. cool behind the scenes piece...i agree they just have to be belivable...so as not to take the reader too far from the story...is fun to know where they came from though...

Star said...

That was interesting to read Vicki. I'm looking forward to exploring your characters' lives.
Blessings, Star

willow said...

Fascinating stuff, Vicki. It's hard for me to bond with a book if I can't stand the character's name. My daughter's name is Elizabeth, and she goes by the Scottish version, Elspeth now.

Kath said...

Vicki,
Such a lesson in name choosing. Thank you.
I fear I scavenge through the genealogies my parents put together. Except for the demons. Those sort of get adulterated from Biblical references or compose themselves.

Thank you for the photos. I look forward to them. I am so taken with your capture of the clouds over the ridge. But for making me smile, the glorious colors of the pumpkin and potpourri bowl wins.
Kath

Tammy said...

I love interesting names, especially the older ones. Once common around here, names like Romy (Roma), Tokey, & Arley or Sadie, Sarey, & Bessie are slowly dying away. I sold some sheep to a gal this year that has a little boy named Boone (of course you know why I like that name) and was expecting a little girl they named Viney (after a grandmother & pronounced as VINE-y)), which I absolutely love. My favorite name in your books has been Maythorn, and I do like the name Phillip Hawkins. I always know I'm in trouble when I pick up a book and the men all have names like Thorn and Steele etc! It's hard to overcome the urge to retch and I fear I've landed in a daytime soap!
Tammy

NCmountainwoman said...

Fascinating. I hadn't thought about an author's problem with names; thinking up the story seems difficult enough!

I have a real interest in names for some reason. I actually read the names in the obits and then look at the ages of the deceased. And I read the birth announcements to see what the current fads are.

Vicki Lane said...

Well, Joan -- you are both Pisceans; perhaps that accounts for it.;-)

I was warning my writing class about that very thing last night, Julienne -- too confusing! What about Thor Studly?

Martin - in my family the mother's maiden name often became a boy's first name or a girl's middle name. I love the name Windust!

Merisi - you remember Gasoline Alley!

Pat - was this in NC? Could have been the same Maythorn I read about...

Brian - loved the piece you posted today!

Star - hope you enjoy my folks!

Elspeth is quite pretty and unusual here. Is this her stage name, Willow?

Genealogy is a rich source indeed, Kat. Isn't that a nice pumpkin!

Great names, Tammy! I'm making a note of them...

I do the same, mountainwoman. So interesting the way names go in and out of popularity.

Marilyn said...

Such an interesting post Vicki, what fun to match names to you characters and to make them come alive.
I am impatient for my books to arrive and check my mailbox daily ;-)

Reader Wil said...

Thanks for this explanation of the names in"Old Wounds".
In the meantime have 24 of the miners been rescued.!

Kristen Haskell said...

That is an interesting post. I struggle with naming my characters in short stories all the time. I guess I need to realize I am writing fiction for pete sake! I love the Bib story. That is priceless.