Friday, December 21, 2012

What's in a Name? How Do You Name Your Characters?

YA Highway's Road Trip Wednesday #161, What's in a name?

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

We'd love for you to participate! Just answer the prompt on your own blog and leave a link - or, if you prefer, you can include your answer in the comments.

This Week's Topic is:
 The list of top baby names in 2012 had us talking about naming characters. How do you decide on names? Would you ever name a character after a friend/family member/ex?

When I began writing shorts and intro's to novels, I would always use the names of family and friends. My heart was in the right place, I thought, When this book becomes a world-wide best seller, [blank] will feel so loved because they are a character in my awesome story. And I tried it. I named characters after people I love, my kids, my friends, my family....but after trying this for many, many times, I realized that I had to break free of it.  The reason? Because it's limiting.

Primarily, this is because I find that if I name a character for someone I know, that character begins to act as the person I know would. Perhaps this is fine IF the character's nature is similar to the real counterpart, but often, I am melding various characteristics of many people or creating someone that I've never met and therefore, it becomes hard to keep the fictional person acting in tune when they hold the namesake of someone I know. So...sorry everyone, I love you but you'll have to settle for being in the credits and dedications.

Instead, I have used various methods. For main characters, I usually know their names as I am thinking about the concept for the story. They're as integral to the story line as the plot elements are. In my post-apocalyptic dystopian fantasy (unofficially referred to as "The Paragon", I chose the name "West Lambert" for the lead. Now, it is true that her last name is also the name of the airport in St. Louis and since I'm from Missouri that was a little bit of love for the Midwest, however, it has very little bearing on the story. West, however, does. The name invokes something a bit androgynous and strong. West is far from girly. She's brave and ready to blow where the wind takes her and for all her faults, she's a wise soul. It seemed fitting for her.

Some names, such as Laura "Lula" Fontaine, the character from my middle-grade fantasy novel, which I'm now calling "The Girl Who Lost Her Imagination and How She Came to Find It", had the right mix of somber and whimsy to make the plot elements work together. 

Sometimes it's trial and error- some of the supporting roles have names I change half-way through the rough draft, just to see how I like them when they're in use. For example, in "The Paragon," I changed Bastian's name from Benjamin about 20 pages in. I just got sick of writing it and it didn't feel right, so I switched it up. I have also looked up names from various eras and cultures and would consult a baby name website if I just needed a way to get the ideas flowing.

Naming characters is fun though. Once they have a name, they come to life. There's a lot in a name and if affects their personality, their actions, and the way other characters relate to them...just like in real life. 

If you want to share your process, tell us about it- create a post on your blog and post a link in the comments or, share what you decided to name your child and why...perhaps it was a family namesake, perhaps you liked the meaning? It's all creative wordplay and I love hearing from you!

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