Thursday, May 22, 2014

What's His Name?? by Dora Hiers

Last month we discussed the first step in birthing great characters~ Give Them A Face. If you missed that post, you can read it here.

So, what do I do after my characters reveal their faces?

Give them a name.

Let’s say you’re writing a romance and you’re casting your hero. He has muscles, courage, confidence…
Sylvester Stallone
Image Courtesy of Bing.com
What’s his name?

Elmer Smith 

Yikes! Listen, I don’t mean to offend anybody (especially Elmer Smith), but do you see how that might create a problem for your hero? There's a reason celebrities change their name.

A July 2012 post from Psychology Today “What’s In a Name?” states, “Names matter. Whenever we hear one, we draw a wide range of assumptions about the individual person or item in question.”

So, don’t just slap any name on your character.

The name should match the period. If you’re writing historicals, you should not saddle a character with a contemporary name. And, as a contemporary writer, unless I had a really good reason and included that reason as part of the story line, I wouldn't name one of my contemporary characters Evelyn or Elmer. Online sites like MomsWhoThink.com list popular boy/girl names by year. Check them out and choose an appropriate name for the period in which you're writing.

Keep a list and mix and match. During football games, movie credits, online research or whenever you hear a name you like, jot down first and last names. When you're ready to introduce a character, pull out your list and mix and match the names. Keep in mind that just because you recorded a name as a surname, it doesn't have to stay that way. I enjoy creating given names from surnames such as my hero in Journey's Edge: Renner Crossman. Don't limit yourself.

Sound out the name. Does it flow? Does your male name sound masculine and your female’s feminine? Any other Castle lovers out there? What if Richard Castle had been named Richard Mouse? Or Kate Beckett, Kate Bungle? That same “What’s In a Name?” post confirms this. “When a name rolls off the tongue, at an implicit level we associate more positive sentiment with it.

Google the name to make sure it doesn’t have a negative history attached to it. Moms and dads agonize over picking out names for their children. If someone influenced their life in a negative way, they generally steer clear of those names. Shouldn't we do the same for our characters? How do you feel about this? 

OK. It’s your turn. What are some of your favorite character names? Least favorite? What's your process for naming characters?
Purchase Link
After a humiliating breakup, best-selling romance author Teal Benning flees to Promise Lake to complete her current novel, minus paparazzi and flashing cameras. Suffering from writer's block and a broken heart, Teal accepts the offer of help from neighbor, Hunter Miciver.

Hunter longs to be more than the friend who picks up the shattered pieces of Teal's heart, but when Teal finds out his secret, will she see him for the man he is—a man of faith and devotion, a man who would cherish her for the rest of her days—or will she lump him into the same category as all the other men in her life, including her father? Will Teal recognize when truth whispers her name?
Me~Dora Hiers


Dora Hiers is a multi-published author of Heart Racing, God-Gracing romances. She’s a member of RWA, ACFW, and the Treasurer for ACFW-Charlotte Chapter. Connect with her on Seriously Write, her personal blogTwitterFacebook or Pinterest.

16 comments:

  1. Dora - great post! Sometimes my characters arrive complete with a name and other times I struggle trying to figure out what to call them.

    If I hear a name I like I try and jot it down to use later. Sometimes I think ok my hero is in his twenties and at work all the young guys that age have names like Justin, Josh, etc.

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    1. Thanks, Terri. I totally get that. Funny how that works, isn't it? How instantly you have a name, but other times you might spend more time naming your character than crafting the blurb.

      Sound like you have a great pool of names to choose from at your job. :)

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  2. All great points, Dora. I loved the name Renner for your character. He was a cool guy, too. :) But when you think about it, would you name a hunky, bulky guy Sylvester?!

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    1. lol, not me, but Stallone totally works! :)
      Thanks, Sandy. The surname Renner came from a former quarterback for UNC.

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    2. Yikes, Sandy--you're right about "Sylvester"! Guess that's why he adopted the nickname "Sly."

      On the other hand, there's nothing wimpy about "Rocky Balboa." ;-D

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    3. Which the writer probably did for a reason although I'd have to watch the first movie all over again to remember why.

      Rocky Balboa in Stallone's voice is ringing in my ears now. Yep. It works. :D

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    4. Stallone works and Myra's right about Sly.

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  3. Great post, Dora! So true about names. Sometimes I've turned bad first names into great last names. Thanks for these tips!

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    1. Thanks, Annette. Isn't it? I think it makes a stronger name when we can twist it in an unusual way.

      Thanks for popping in. I always appreciate a visit from you. :)

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  4. Yes, loved this post, Dora. Picking character names is hard for me. Some of my characters have gone through several name changes as I get to know them. You've given us lots to think about.

    In fact, you've started a discussion on Facebook about pen names -- for the same reasons. What do you think? Do some author names get in the way of the story? Would you read an action/thriller written by Maurice Lacy? Or romantic love story by Ima Stone? LOL!

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    1. Angie, that's too funny. I once had a character that wasn't jiving for me, but I kept his name and ditched his face. :) Usually once I decide on a name, it's firm in my head.

      As far as reading a romance by Ima Stone, that might make for a good chuckle initially, but I'd give it a try if the blurb caught my attention. I think readers accept that authors are real people, not fictional characters. (I hope, anyway!) But a great name on the cover of a book adds a little extra sparkle, a little more "pick me up," right? I don't think it would hurt. :)

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  5. Thanks for the great post on naming! As a family historian as well as an author, I am rather picky about names fitting the time period of the novel. My best sources of historical names: (1) family history records for my family and my husband's family which came from different parts of the nation and the world. (2) census records for the locality and decade. Find out what the 20-30 year-olds were named. (3) familysearch.org or ancestry.com for time and place search (4) internet search for lists like the one you shared.

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    1. Wow! This is great info, Robyn!
      You made a great point here. Locales should also play a huge role in determining your character names.
      Thanks so much for sharing. :)

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    2. Good suggestions, Robyn. I don't like reading historicals with names that are obviously contemporary. It throws me out of the time period.

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  6. Dora, so sorry to be late. I have not been home and not much online in the meantime. I so love this post. I agonize for the correct names...well, agonize is a tough word because I love the search LOL. favorite hero names of my own is Brixton Haynes. It sounded so cowboy...Haynes is the name if a street near my son's. Overall it's a hero in a way old action suspense who is named Glade Wyndham. Never forgot the book. Or him!

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    1. I'm with you, Tanya. I spend a lot of time coming up with my character names, but I enjoy doing it. Wow. Never thought of using streets but I'll definitely pay more attention now. Brixton Haynes ~ oh yeah. Love it!

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