Thursday, December 02, 2010

A Name Says So Much About a Person

What you're called was up to your parents and some people change them, either by using a nickname or legally, but they often say a great deal about a person.

It's pretty much the same when it comes to a writer giving a character their name.  Maybe that's why some authors will say they gave birth to their characters, although I'm more apt to say I built them from the ground up - flaws and all.

With that in mind, there are two ways for me the naming comes to fruition.  The plot is already fleshed out in my head and the characters need to be worked into that as I'm writing the story.  Then there are those times when I have a character who is looking for a happy ending.  Here's a small portion of how I work it out.

The first story I ever wrote was Come, Sweet CreatureWhiskey Creek Press Torrid was looking for twisted fairytales and I chose 'The Spider and the Fly' by Mary Howitt.  The plot was there and the challenge I set for myself was to make a hero who sets out to trap the heroine for his pleasure, but to also be someone the reader could like and support.  In short, a gentleman with a devious side.  I played around with a name book, but kept going back to making a play on the "spider" qualities, and ultimately settled on Tilton Spidermach.  To this day, I wouldn't change a thing about this character, and especially not his name.  It suits him and his personality.

In Zandia, I again had the plot, and the hero was built from that base.  The hero, an heir being prepared to rule, was from a backwards thinking planet that is the furtheset in the known galaxy, which also means there isn't a great deal of interaction with others, except for the tournament.  Okay, tricky, but I wanted to show the future ruler was both powerful and loving.  Stuck, I did what one of my tricks to get inspired, and that is to think foreign, think back to school, think back to books I've read.  I went to my bookshelves and there was the answer all wrapped into one tidy package.  Oedipus Rex by Sophocles.  Rex, latin for King.  Loved it, but also thought it was too obvious so started to play around and ended up with using two very obvious words only in reverse.  Rex Heir - Xer Rieh, hero of the future!

Then there are those heroes who come first.  First one of this sort that comes to mind is Hamish Buchanan from Highland Heat.  I saw a picture and had the character built, all in my head, but needed the perfect name to see him through to the end.  I didn't want one that offered nicknames or to be shorted, but I did want something that said he was a proud Scotsman.  Old family, that's what he deserved and so I sought out a strong, historical, surname from the Highlands for my hero.  Buchanan was chosen mainly because of their moto:  Clarior Hinc Honos or Henceforth forward the honour shall grow ever brighter(1).  The Hamish part was easier because it happened to be a character's name in a tv show I used to watch in England.  It was a mystery series [based on books written by MC Beaton which I still mean to read] set in Scotland, specifically the Highlands, with the gorgeous, Scottish, Robert Carlyle as the policeman.

I admit to having changed a characters name mainly because their name didn't suit them.  The one I had the most fun name-wise was actually the heroine in Call Me Lucifer.  Found by a group of firemen, she accepted the name they gave her the day they found in the trash, but later shortened it to Nia, Nia Adams.  She wasn't big in telling people about her past, but she did tell a lover, and he turned out to be Satan.  Did he use it against her?  Ever so slightly by giving her the nickname Pet.

The heroine of the story I'm currently working on is Mary Miller and it was settled alongside the plot.  Both at once.  Interesting.

There you go, a little bit on how much thought can go into naming a character.  Heritage, personality, strengths and weaknesses, physical appearance, vocation, all of it and much much more play a part in who that person is, how they turn out, and their name.  Names are very important.


Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Names ARE important. I'm playing with a character right now whose name may or may not need to change.

And how do you do surnames?? I am THE WORST at those.

Tilly Greene said...

I'm all over the place, but so are my characters :-)

If they are your average Joe or Jane, then that's the type of surname I seek and it can change until I feel right writing it attached to them. However, if they have a background/heritage that plays is a big part of their personality, then I step in that direction and it tends not to change - weird.

Write your blurb for them and sometimes that will help you settle on something.