Thursday, August 4, 2011

That which we call a Rose … OH! Rose?

No doubt, my favorite part of starting a new story is naming my main characters. I spend hours researching on (which has its own ‘Tips for Writers’ section because, apparently, I’m not the only person who’s thought of this).

So far, I have a Rainy Baker, an Ivy Taite, a Sundae DeSilva, a Drew Morgan and twin girls Piper and Melina Cora. I have a Zellie, an Oliver Bexley and a female Emerson. I’ve created Dale Nasira, Wes Draiman and Elizabeth Bianca Fallon, not to mention Nick Sylvestre, Balthasar Harding and Dr. Paul Wilson.

… But for the love of JK Rowling I can’t come up with a name for the main character in my latest WIP.

Description: Character X is a young asst. curator at a museum. She has a boyish pixie, is cute and short with curves, and enjoys fashionable pencil skirts, Mary Janes, books about adventure, and tall roguish cable TV hosts with big egos … but she’ll never admit to that last one.

At first, her name was Alana Wendell. I liked this for the feminine flow of the first name, which worked well with the tough, almost working class last name. The sound worked, and there were quite enough syllables to feel right on the tongue (or, the mind’s tongue). But, I didn’t love it. It was a little too ‘floaty’ – a nonsensical term for how I describe a name that’s too girly, too angelic and too innocent.

It’s still a favorite for the position of ‘official name,’ but I’m keeping my options open.

Then, she became Leona Bennette – fierce, strong and interesting first name anchored by a classic, feminine last name. I tried this out at my husband’s suggestion (he’s a tremendous help), but I’m just not feeling it. The first name is too ethnic for a librarian-esque girl who works in a museum. All I can see is a little Italian woman with her gray hair pulled into a tight bun. If I changed the spelling to Liona, that helps a little …

Now, I'm considering Claire Melisandre. It's got the librarian esque first name with a distinct flair of adventure in the last name. But, I'm just not sure. I feel like I might be quoting 'The Breakfast Club' lines while I'm writing.

So, I’m appealing to you all for some help, while also giving away some tips I’ve discovered for naming characters (because, despite what I’m showing here, I’m actually quite good at it and <3 it). Here are my best ones:

Think of adjectives that describe the person. Write them down, and then look at the list. Maybe a few spark a memory of a girl you once knew, or a guy from a TV show you saw while clicking through the channels. Or, maybe if you’re feeling crazy, you can piece together the adjectives themselves – using letters to form names or maybe parts of the words themselves.

Watch movie credits. Let your eyes skim the first names – or the last names. Whatever. But you’ll find a ton of interesting monikers you might never have thought of yourself. Also, the Disney/Pixar movies have a fun thing at the very end of the credits called ‘Production Babies,’ which shows all of the babies born during the making of the movie. HUGE wealth of info.

Visit a graveyard. OK, this is not as morbid as it seems. A few years back I was unfortunate enough to be driving slowly past tombstones in a French-Canadian cemetery, and I was inappropriately struck with a desire to have my notebook.

…Which leads me to my last and best tip:

Make a list. When you see a great name – someone being interviewed, a name in the news, an email from a PR person at work – make a note of it. Designate a page in the back of your writing notebook (I use the very last page) as a repository of great names. That way, whenever you get stuck, you have a starting point with notes you are giving yourself.

Remember, the name is a huge part of the character. Choose the one that will express something special about your character that you won’t ever have to explain yourself. A perfect name sets the tone, while an imperfect name detracts from it … and could cause a reader to stop reading.

Things I try to avoid:

Names recently used in popular books. The world doesn’t need another Bella, Hermione, Clary or Juliet. Just. Say. No.

Anthropomorphic names. Wren is very cool, but I’ll always think of a bird first instead of a hot blond with dreadlocks.

Names the general populous can’t pronounce out loud. Russian names, while pretty to look at, are hard to read. So are some French names (gasp, mon amour!), Persian names, Irish names, etc. Exotic is great, but think of the poor audio reader who’s going to be reading this aloud.

OK, now that I’ve hopefully helped you, could you help me? Alana Wendell or Liona Bennette or Claire Melisandre – or something else entirely? : ) Do you have another suggestion?


  1. I usually pick names by meaning. I do a reverse look up. For instance I have an Antag named Belinda. Belinda means serpent--and she IS! Try picking your MC strongest trait and look us names by meaning. Good Luck!

  2. I love Claire for a librarian name (of course, I have a character named Claire in my WIP so maybe I'm biased) but I don't love her last name. Alana Wendell is all right, but sorta boring. Liona Bennette is strong, but I don't feel library curator type girl. What about Claire Bennette? Is it too few syllables? I like the strength of it. I don't know if you're quite there yet. Good luck!

  3. I like Alana Wendell! Actually, I like that one alot.

    Usually, a name pops into my head and that's it. I try not to overthink it too much or else I get all sorts of confused :)

  4. I like Alana Wendell, too, but honestly when you described her, I could only think of this girl I met last week whose name was Rae. Not shortened for anything.

    But then Rae Melisandre sounds better than Rae Wendell, though the latter's not too bad...

    Sorry I'm so all over the place! Good luck!

  5. Well, the first name that popped into my brain was Jane. Then I saw you had narrowed the field, so, um, sorry. However I love Claire -- but I like it paired with last name Bennette.
    Claire Bennette.

  6. Oh, that's funny, I didn't read the other comments until after I commented. D'oh! So, I agree with Laura.

  7. Hey, forgot to tell you, I gave you an award on my blog.

  8. I agree with the name Claire. My favorite last name that you had was Bennette, but I don't know if it's the best choice for her last name. Just remember, though, whatever the name is, your readers are going to love it! Good luck!

  9. I love the character description, but not loving Alana. I agree with you. She could be running a spa. For some reason, Jill came to mind...

    Love your twitter tag line. I'm a terrible knitter, but love it.

  10. Absolutely fantastic blog!!! Glad I found it! Love it!!!

    Lola x


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