Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Name Game

First of all, I’m so happy to be guest blogging today! And I’m thrilled to be one of the newest Mysteries & Margaritas members! Thanks so much, ladies, for inviting me. I’m such a fan.  My topic today is names.

How do you come up with names for your characters? Do you use a baby name book? Telephone book? Do you skim through magazines, go through old year books,or shake up scrabble tiles(which I’ve personally never done, but now that I put it out there…that might be fun!).Me, I’ve never had a problem coming up with my characters first names. I like to hunt in the recesses of my brain for something different. It’s last names that always have me searching because they just have to be a good fit. And if I get really stuck, I resort to the address book on my cell phone. Yup, I do. I scroll down looking at each name and pairing it up with my hero/heroine name. I’ve also been known to try sorting my music list by artist and trying out their last names with my character. And in a real pinch, I’ve thought back to my favorite TV shows and the main characters names. There’s usually a winner or two in there somewhere.

And what about locations? Do you write using real places, or do you make them up? Sometimes I will use actual names of towns but put them in different states. I have that nagging fear if I write about a factual place, someone will find fault and try to prove that something I put there never existed. Have you ever used places you’ve been to on vacation? I wanted to write a Caribbean setting…but when we went on our cruise, I was so relaxed I couldn’t concentrate on research! Yes, I have memories of beautiful locations, but my heroine would have to be passing through because between the sun and fun and cocktails I don’t remember enough details to set the entire story there! So unless I ever decide to write a non-fiction book, I’m going to mix and match my cities and states like my darling Diva mixes and matches her hair bands.

One thing I did subconsciously when I wrote Extreme Love Makeover was use street names from my local town. When the Dreams & Desires Anthology came out, my mother read the story and pointed out the ‘familiar’ names I’d used (as only a mother can). Ever since then, I’ve noticed just how much I do it. I use department store names from my childhood or even from my current town. And for some reason I’m partial to using names of people on my husband’s side of the family. And every once in a while my characters take on characteristics of some of my bestest friends (although I’ll never tell them!). The funny thing is…it just happens. I’m not intentionally doing it, but I love the results!

I guess when they say “write what you know”, it means more than just topics and plots. As writer’s I believe we put into our stories so much of ourselves even in the subtlest of ways, right down to having a character treasure the recipe of great grandma’s molasses cookies. And who knows, the old girl might even have a starring role, reliving her youth as your next heroine!

And if we write it right…readers will love those places, those characters and those details too. What a tribute to the people we care about, and the places we loved to live in or visit. If we write with heart, how can we ever go wrong?

So tell me – how do YOU come up with the names of your memorable characters and settings? I’d love to know! I’m off to toss my scrabble tiles and see what name I can spell first but I'll be checking back to hear what you have to say! Happy Tuesday Everyone!!


Cassy Pickard said...

Barbie Joe! This is so so great to have you part of M&M. We've just gone up a peg or two!!

Names, hmm, I am not always sure when I have a name right, but I know when it's wrong. I wrote about 4 chapters in my last book and couldn't connect with my main character. Once I renamed her, we got along famously.

One thing I do, and I find it helpful, is I make a list of the 26 letters of the alphabet. As I name characters I fill in the space next to the letter. This way I am sure to have different beginning letters for names. I hate it when I read a book in which I keep forgetting who's who because Bill, Bob, Bert, and Betty are all prancing about the page.

Great post. I look forward to reading more you haver written. Cassy

Kari Lee Townsend said...

Yay,Barbie Jo is in the house!

Great post. I love the scrabble idea, and I never thought to use the phone book.

I do use a baby book. And I do try to have characters of certain nationalities so I can look up cool Italian names, or Irish names, etc. I think it adds flavor.

I have also used names from TV shows and soap operas. They are always cool :-)

Cassy Pickard said...

What's also interesting about this is-- just how close to actual can you get? I have my characters teaching in an extremely well known re-named university. The school has nothing really to do with the story. But, bad things do happen. I have clearly changed the name, but, well, there are times I think about the "coincidence" of the descriptions being similar.

Anita Clenney said...

Happy Tuesday, Barbie Jo! When I choose names I usually go online and look at whatever is appropriate. For instance, Scottish names. Usually, several will catch my attention. I'll write them down and mull them over, sometimes getting second opinions from my CP. I try not to use names of people I know, even if I like that name because I'm afraid they'll think they were the basis for the character. If they were, it would be different. Now an exception to this is the cozy I'm writing. There is a diner and I'm naming the diner after my aunt who's a great cook.
The scrabble idea is great!

Liz Lipperman said...

Welcome, Barbie. We love it that you've joined us here. And what a good topic to start us off today. I do everything you mentioned plus I look for a name that gives me a good nickname. I love when the friends and hero call my girl a cute name - like Babs!!

As for locations, I had a real small town name in Liver Let Die and then worried since I'd called the copes Dumb and Dumber. So, after talking with my editor, I switched it to a fictitious name. There are still a few street names and things in there that will let people know what area I am talking about. It gives you so much freedom to do anything if it's fictitious.

You are so right when you say if we write it right, people will love it. That's the key.

I use a lot of Hispanic names since I write about Texas. I have to be careful to mix it up a bit.

Great start to a good time at M & M.

E.C. Smith said...

Hey, Barbie Jo!

I use street names too...all the time. The baby book makes an appearence everyonce in a while...although usually in the form of babynames.com. My radar is always up and running when it comes to names. But, sometimes? I just make them up. I have no idea where the MC's name in my WIP came from...I just pulled it from thin air. And I love it...so something must be working right! (:

Donna Cummings said...

Fun post, Barbie Jo. :)

I keep a Word doc for all the names I come across that I like. I'm always on the lookout, looking at names in the closing credits of TV shows/movies, or in spam e-mail. LOL

A couple of times I've had the wrong names for a character, as Cassy mentioned, and the story just doesn't work! Then when I change the name, the personality does too, and then the story gets moving!

Lindsay said...

Welcome Barbie Joe. It's going to be fun, interesting and an experience having you at M&M. Enough with the niceities let's get to the question(s) at hand.
For my characters first names I have several methods. First-if I'm looking for a heroine my first stop will be Starbucks. If I can't find a name there that works then it's off to the grocery store and the people who work there. Pretty much the same for the hero, even though his name isn't that important. For foreign names I have a baby name app on my iPhone and if all else fails I will get the name from the newscasts. Last names come from the phone book, yes they still exist or from signs I see.
For villains and victims-people who get me mad. Not to mention it's great therapy. Killing off someone you dislike or really have.
And the more then get me mad, them worse the villain or their death is. Like I said-great therapy. PS. Don't worry ladies, you're all safe.
Places-Writing contemporary I like to try to use real places with just enough about the area to make it real so if the reader is from there or goes there they will feel at home.

Barbie Jo Mahoney said...

Thanks for the big warm welcome everyone!!

CASSY - I've had very similar character situations,too. From naming them wrong to trying to make them do something they just don't want to. And once you correct the problem, it's amazing how the work flow changes!

KARI - Nationalities are always fun! It's a blast looking names and traditions up online so you really nail the character/traits.

ANITA - I try not to use first names of people I know, too, because I don't want them to think I based the character or story on them. But last names? They are fair game to me! the characters themselves, while I might use funny quirks or traits from my frieds, are soley the product of my overactive and sometimes twisted imagination.

LIZ - I just love when characters have nicknames! I think as a reader it's easy to connect with them. Well, and it just makes for darn good reading!

Barbie Jo Mahoney said...

EC - Pulling names out of thin air is great! sometimes when a name just pops into my head I get so excited because I KNOW she's going to have an awesome story!

DONNA - OOOH, another spreadsheet girl! I love it! And I think I'm going to have to take a look-see into my spam folder! LOL

LINDSEY - Starbuck's and the grocery store, niiiice! Adn I beg to differ, Hero names are important. I don't want the heroine to hook up with "Gus" unless it's short for Gustav and he's a buff, hot, ex-Russian spy who is now working for the US gov't. :-) Oh, and I'm all for killing people who have highly agitated me. And for them - REAL names are used!!!!

Lindsay said...

Oh I do agree that the hero name is important. But since my heroine saves his butt, with furry four-footed help, his name, I don't think about as much.
And I forgot to mention that I've also got an app for pet names. Unfortunately the list is all encompassing so I can't break it down by specie-dog, cat, fish, bird, reptile (oh, that's the villain, sorry)

Barbie Jo Mahoney said...

Oooh, an ap for pet names. I'm liking that! Animals in novels are always entertaining. I had an ap on my phone that would tell me where the cheapest gas was in my area. I went to use it the other day and it was gone! gee..really??? yeah, that's right, cuz there is NO CHEAP GAS!!! oy.

Lindsay said...

Do a search in the app story for 5000 Pet Names Free. That's the one I use and like it.
Of course the best part-it's free

Ellen Hartman said...

I just made my first spreadsheet for character names. I'm working on my 7th book (eek!) and realized I need to start keeping track of things.

I'm still working through the list of baby names my husband rejected for our kids. I'm good at brainstorming and he's good at saying, "No" so the list is pretty long.

I love naming the characters. :-)