Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Name Game

I never knew the words to this song until my son was about three. Somehow he learned it from a cd we had and sang it all the time. It was all fine and well until he decided to sing about my father-in-law who everyone calls Buck.

Buck Buck, Bo Buck, Banana fana fo ... 

Well, you can see where that went. Yeah, my son dropped the f-bomb (to a room full of laughing adults) at three. All because of a name.

When I'm writing stories, I spend a ridiculous amount of time researching the meaning of names. The novel I'm querying right now has a mom who dreams of exploring outer space. The main character is named Marten because when he was born, the Mom was researching Mars as she worked on her Ph.D. Marten is a variation of Martin (Latin) and means, "dedicated to Mars."

NONE of the information I just told you about his name shows up in the novel. Even though it's cool and it ties in with the story, giving the reader that information doesn't move the action forward. So it ends up being a useless piece of trivia filed in my brain. I just happen to be anal about incorporating meaning into the names I choose for each and every character.

I actually have a hard time writing if I don't know why a character has a certain name. Does it make a difference? Probably not. Do readers care? Definitely not. And yet, it's a piece of backstory that, for me, is vitally important.

How do you choose names for your characters? Does the meaning of the names matter?

BTW, Buck (Old English) is used for a male deer or goat. When used as a name or nickname, it means, "a robust and spirited young man." Now I understand why my father-in-law earned that moniker :)


You have one more day to enter for a chance to win a book From Me to You. I'll be selecting winners for The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen or an ARC of Crossing Over by Anna Kendall at midnight PST on Thursday, November 11.

New Words since NaNo began: 3972
Total Words written & kept on WiP: 10,041


Laura Pauling said...

I pick names I like - obv. and ones that will fit the character's personality. And if I've done research, I sometimes use versions of the real people behind the fiction.

Bish Denham said...

I research names too. What amazes me is how often I pick a name out of the air that I like, research it and discover its meaning/history is perfect for the character.

Kelly Polark said...

I've changed the mean girl's name in my manuscript several times. My main characters seem easy, but I have trouble with minor character names, especially last names!
I have written two people in my manuscript Mr. He and Mrs. She because I can't think of a proper last name for them!

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I love having names rich with meanings and spend a crazy amount of time picking out my main character names. But think I kind of randomly pick the secondary characters, whatever sounds fun.

p.s. it's not useless trivia! You'll use it to pack your website with fun stuff after you publish! :)

Kristan Hoffman said...

Haha, I definitely don't get that hung up on names... I pick names that seem to fit, and then I *might* check meaning just to make sure it's not completely opposite of the person's personality. (Ethnic names I probably check a little more.)

Laurel Garver said...

I'm so with you! I totally love using names that either
-demonstrate a trait
-tie in with a character's story arc
-show their parents' aspriations
-play against type

I love Susan's idea of someday explaning on my author site how and why I picked my names.

C.R. Evers said...

lol! That's hysterical!

I tend to like my characters to have meaning to their names also. but there are times that I choose a name just because it seems "right"

Lenny Lee said...

hi miss sherrie! wow you got a method for doing names. how cool is that! for me i mostly dont pick them cause they just pick me. i leave it blank when im writing and when i get going on a story and say enough stuff about a character all of a sudden it name just pops into my head and whamo! thats the one. like that mountain goat i was writing about just got named gunther cause it just what he wanted to be called.
...smiles and hugs from lenny

Carolyn V. said...

Names are hard for me to pick. I have to research them and see if they feel right on the character. It's worse than when I picked out names for my own kids. =)

lotusgirl said...

Oi! You gotta love kids' innocence.

I spend a lot of time figuring out names, too. I love names with meanings. Sometimes I just like the way the name sounds. I even think about how their initials come together and what they mean. One character's initials are very significant, but they never even come out in book one. Eventually his middle name will come out.

Windy Aphayrath said...

I think someone else posted about this earlier this week! But I love love love talking names. One way I've named characters is using the baby names my husband was dead set against. Another is just waiting until it comes to me. I usually write in first person, so I don't always know the MCs name when I start and then when I hit the point where I need a name and I've got nothing, I know I have to stop. I take it as a sign. Currently have 3 wips in various forms of beginning and I had to wait until my MC "introduced" herself to me before I knew which book I was supposed to keep working on.

I'm a really organic writer, can you tell? Lol!

Susan R. Mills said...

I usually go with real people. Since I write about teens, I pull from my kids' yearbooks.

Krispy said...

Cool, I'm totally the same! I love names that have extra meaning, even if the info never shows up in the actual book. So yeah, I totally agonize over names. Not for every single character, but for a lot of them I do spend a lot of time researching and picking.

I love some of the names in Harry Potter for this reason. You don't get into the name meanings for Sirius Black or Remus Lupin, yet their names reveal something important about their characters. :)

Jackee said...

LOL! That reminds me of the time my oldest (then 2) yelled out truck in the middle of church. Only her "tr's" sounded like "f's". :o)

I choose names based on solid reasons like that. Only I need to learn to let go of putting the reason in the books! So far they always end up a part of the plot.

Great topic, Sherrie! :o)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Ha! That's a great anecdote.
And I'm intrigued to learn how Marten got his name.
I think it helps to feel connected to the characters when you've given thought to what you name them.

Jan Markley said...

I spend a lot of time on names as well. In my upcoming novel for young readers Dead Bird through the Cat Door the character who runs the bird sanctuary is Aviary Finch and the not so nice character is called Souris Vole (souris being the french word for mouse and vole being a type of rodent - so essentially his name is mouse mouse)!

Tiana Smith said...

Ha ha ha, I can just imagine him singing that. I think names are important too. Before I even start writing, I usually do a ton of research on names.

Jean Ann said...

Names are important to me when I begin a new story. I try to think of what the character is like, may be like, and name him or her. Then I flesh out my character. I may change their name later.

TerryLynnJohnson said...

love your intro story here. Very funny!
We actually talk about this in an Ask An Elevensie post over at the Elevensies. Some of us research like you. Some just mix and match names of people we know or knew.
Personally, all my dog names are dogs I worked with, that way I don't have to think too hard to make them quirky. They just naturally are!

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