Monday, April 21, 2014

30-Week Writing Survey: Week 3: Names



Today's question: How do you come up with names--for characters and for places if you're writing about fictional places? 

Wow, that's a rough answer since no one project has the same answer.


People Names:
Usually I don't deliberately look for a particular name for a character. I'll like a name and eventually it will belong to a character I make up in the future. I tend not to choose names to "mean" anything in particular if I'm writing a realistic story at all. I don't like it when I read stories featuring characters with names that are disturbingly well suited to them unless they are names the characters chose themselves or some kind of really weird coincidence or something that says something about that character's PARENTS (which then rubbed off on them).

I do tend to like unusual names for my characters, but a lot of the time those just kind of suggest themselves to me. In Bad Fairy I have a small but significant portion of the population being fairies, and while some of their naming traditions overlap with those of humans, they also are much more likely to give their children nature-related names. Protagonist Delia has a name that's traditional for either race, and I use the traditional names Gena, Beatrice, Chloe, Livia, Fiona, Brigit, Callum, Clarissa, Chelsea, Lila, Estelle, Sylvia, etc. But some of the naturey/flora/fauna names that pop up include Jasper, Basil, Drake, Rose, Opal, Zinnia, Briony, Wisteria (she goes by Teri). . . . Sometimes it extends to last names and chosen "working" names and whatnot as well. But sometimes I just made up names, like Myrilla, Orrin, Kagen, Kyrene, and Leahan. And I created some interesting names for fictional deities.

Finding Mulligan had a few peculiarities regarding names. Cassandra, the protagonist, goes by Cassie, but her other self in a dream land is named Dia, which is the Spanish word for "day." Cassie primarily hangs out with other people with fairly ordinary names--Jamie, Terrell, Greg, Gabi (short for Gabriela), and her sister's name is Haley. In dreamland, the characters usually have odd names I completely pulled out of my butt; some examples include Laro, Sondi, Milani, and Nickel, though there are also a few very ordinary ones too (Becky, Margo, Lisa, Barbara, Carlos). And there's Mulligan, but that's also a last name, and I will shut up about that.

Stupid Questions also has mostly ordinary names; it takes place in a contemporary, ordinary world (except for the fact that the protagonist is trying to date a girl who has superpowers), so probably the weirdest name I have there is the love interest, Summer. (Her mom was named Autumn, so they have a theme-named family.) The protagonist is Nick, with a best friend named Bart and a supporting character named Brian. This was definitely one of those stories where I figured out what people's names were when they appeared to tumble out of the characters' mouths when they addressed each other. Nick's boss actually addressed him as Harris, his last name, the first time he spoke to him, so I knew his last name before his first.

Joint Custody had some interesting choices for names, but I did that partly because one of the things the two main characters bond over is that they have sort of funny names. Main character Bay's full name is Bainbridge (yeah, I'd go by "Bay" too), but I didn't make that up. It's an actual Irish name. His friend that he ends up meeting is Marcella, who goes by Marz. Marz's family likes giving their kids weird names. She has an older sister named Vanilla (Nillie) and a younger sister named Tallulah (Lulu). Oh those Pagan hippies.

Wow, Adele found her name
on a keychain!
In the House That Ivy Built series that I wrote in college, I have several names you don't hear too often: Cecily, Dax, Weaver, Neptune, Thursday, and a girl named Bradleigh. (I don't know where I got the idea to name a girl Bradleigh. I think it's kinda cool.) I went on to make a webcomic out of this, and there are some interesting choices there too:

In Negative One, Adele's storyline takes place in another world at first, so everybody had an alien name. ("Adele" was the name her human teacher Tabitha called her; her given name is Ashnai.) Ailao (their world) was settled by neighboring Shio, so everyone speaks Shioan and I gave them names in that language. Adele's brothers were named Shoen and Falah, and her sisters were named Noaleen and Lafee. Her mom's name is Lalaf and her father's name is Samifi. She has a couple friends named Aleef and Shelshay. A little bit of thought went into those names because their language only uses certain sounds, and all the words in the language tend to use a lot of vowels with the occasional gentle fricative. I took that into account when I named them, but other than that there's not too much importance on the names . . . though the foreign names do have "meanings" in their language to some degree (like Adele's brother Falah's name basically means "of the head"--the Shioan word for "head" is "fala"--so it's a name that suggests intelligence).

In my first book that I wrote when I was fourteen, Double Vision, I had a whole bunch of sets of twins to name, and even though I was only fourteen I actually had kind of done my naming research and I thought I managed to handle the naming of nine sets of twins in realistic ways. Meaning that I took into account the fact that many parents are tempted to do goofy things to twins' names that they wouldn't do to ordinary siblings'. About half of the twins in the story either had names that rhymed (Cara and Sara, Dustin and Justin) or names that started with the same letter (Nadia and Natalie, Laurel and Lilly, Carmen and Candace). However, other twins were named with unrelated names (Cristabel and Benjamen, Craig and Mike, Zachary and Brian, Misti and Celeste). I don't know why I gave Benjamen an alternate spelling. Probably I just didn't know how to spell it right at that point.

And with regards to short stories, there were some interesting choices made for names.

"Bloom" had its protagonist Kamber Valerian. She belongs to a Goddess-worshipping alternative culture in the modern world called the Kinfolk, which I made up for the story. For her people I generally made up first names just kind of fiddling with sounds, and I gave them nature-related last names. (Valerian is an herb.) Other Kinfolk characters were named Seaira, JeLin, Shael, Zinc, LaRayen, Caitrin, Sandarin. . . . Just being creative with sounds or using names I knew/liked and altering their spelling a bit.

"The Curse" had its protagonist who went by the name Zarry, which was actually short for Balthazar. He was supposed to be a savior and stuff, so he got a pretty heavy name. Heh. In the story "Grace," a girl named Iris gets named "Grace" by her girlfriend when she comes of age; I reproduced the names when I rewrote the short story as "Her Mother's Child." "Mother's Day" has quite a to-do about names, since the main character is one of a rather large set of clones and really names are the only things that separate Hendrix from his brothers. To give them some semblance of individuality, they're each named after a musician and instructed to make themselves well-versed in that artist's music, so it's kind of an identity as well as a name. Hendrix's roommates are Copland and Simon. (Named for Aaron Copland and Paul Simon, actually. He never met the guy who got named Garfunkel.)

In "Wind," the main character ends up having to "name" his supposed Christmas fairy because she wants a name, and though he first names her Wendy, it sort of mutates into "Windy" or "Wind." Later in the story she goes by Solana/Lana after she goes out west. (Solana means "Wind from the east." But it's okay that it was symbolic because she picked it on purpose.) And in "On the Inside," everybody has a completely invented name because it's a completely invented culture; my protagonist is named Lihill (pronounced "LEE-hill"), and that's a boys' name in her society but she's a girl. (She's transgender, but she doesn't actually hate her name; she just hates that it's one of the things that helps people misread her as a boy.) Her sister is named Cyani (pronounced "sy-AH-nee") and her best friend is Mymei (pronounced "MY-may"). And a cool wise woman in the story is named Teinan (pronounced "TAY-nan"). I might write another version of this story from Teinan's perspective because she's neat. A few other people have names in the story but seriously, I was just mashing noises together.

Place Names:

I tend not to have to name places because I write in the modern known world for the most part. The exceptions are of course Bad Fairy and Negative One. I did something sort of weird in Bad Fairy regarding place names; they just aren't there very much. Delia's village is called Belkin, and it is one of four riverside communities, but I only named three of them (the others are called Augun and Deegan Mills). There aren't any other names. Like, the kingdom, the country--doesn't have a name. I guess I suck at this. 

And in Negative One I had a bunch of dimensions to name. I have some semblance of knowledge regarding the phonemes of the Shioan language, so I know what sorts of rules they have when they name places. Basically if a dimension's official name doesn't end in "o," the Ailaoans or the Shioans didn't name it. (The "o" on the end is kinda how people who speak English might use "-ville" or something.) So some of the dimensions they've named have names like Nuamio, Lin-nitho, Win-shilao, Minshao, Leisheilo, and of course Thee-ileo (that's the human world, guys! They named us!). Basically if a dimension already had a name they let them keep it even on the Shioan maps. So some other places in the multiverse are Ment, Gow, Zuvacha, Chiplance, Jian, and this cool place called Fae where faeries come from y'all. But anyway.

I'm not one of those fantasy writers who tends to have a grand old time naming stuff on maps or whatever, so I tend not to do too much in the way of place-naming. When I have to do it I try to just make sure it's got consistent rules. For the modern-time stories I very rarely invent any places, though there were a few exceptions in THTIB (I mean, New York and L.A. are in the story, cementing it as a "here and now" story, but I also invented a couple towns--Wensleydale in New Jersey, MacLaine in California, Ridgefield in North Carolina--mainly because I was making specific colleges or organizations there and I didn't want them to be said to be rooted in "real" places).

I am kind of a names nerd in real life, though. I have collected baby name books forever and am very interested in naming trends. I've used those books on occasion to grab names for characters. :) 

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