Tuesday, December 14, 2004


I'm getting deeper into Dhalgren, but thought I'd broach the subject of names for characters in short stories (for those of you who write them). How do you choose them? I have to admit, I sometimes use a baby name book -- I have a few of these floating around (the one I had in college, one of my sick, twisted boyfriends cut the ear off the baby on the cover, for some strange reason), and then I can look up cool stuff, like what a character's name means, symbolically (like "he who scampers barefoot over the moors at night"). (Although I have to admit, I have been winging it with character names lately.)

The funny part of this is, the friends who don't know me extremely well (or don't think too hard about what it is I do with much of my spare time when I'm being a shut in) are probably really, really curious as to why on earth a single woman who is currently not even remotely dating would have a baby name book just lying around. In fact, it would probably scare the hell out of prospective male companions (and hmm, perhaps scared the hell out of the most recent ones, come to think of it, if they were even paying enough attention to notice one in my pile of books near my bookshelf).

And while we're speaking of fictional characters' names, I have a weird glitch. I have this propensity for wanting to name female characters "Jade." It's happened repeatedly, and then I think, "nah, this chick isn't Jade," and then I do a find/replace and change the name before final draft. Because the real Jade is going to have to be the last Jade. Dunno -- it's kind of weird.

So anyway, I'd love to hear others' methods for choosing names or if it's just random luck of the draw. (When you start to have a body of work, it gets a little daunting, and I try to steer clear of the most common names.) Also, if anybody has a particular fixation on a particular name, like I happen to have.

Write on,



Blogger Maktaaq said...

Oh, I have a baby name book too. Though I should get an updated one, with all the weird foreign names. I can't proceed with a story unless I have the right name. My shrimp story, never found the right name, so I gave her the first Spanish name that came to mind.

I used the baby book when I worked in the Japanese school system: I insisted all my students have English names. That way they would at least know one name. I discovered that Uma of Uma Thurman means horse in Japanese. And I think it was Chuck that means fly as in "your fly is down."

My favourite name was a boy I called Mr. Tarantula (he once stood up in class to explain what a tarantula was, because no other kids in Japan had any idea). I gave him the "English" name Merlin, so he became Merlin Tarantula. Kind of a Harry Potteresque name for a weird little boy. Merlin Tarantula will be a character in a future book.

I keep thinking that, the way I carefully named the kids in class, it's quite parental...perhaps it makes up for me never having children of my own.

(A tangent: German female names sound just awful but they all mean cool things like "warrior maiden.")

3:40 AM  
Blogger Jen said...

Hee, hee. I have a baby name book too (I've probably picked out more names for potential pets than babies). I've used it a few times, but usually I think of a story then put in a place-filler name until something comes to me. Sometimes the place-filler suffices. I choose the name Percy in the current story I writing because of its alliteration with the word pin-up (the working title is "Percy's Pin-up." I try extra hard not to use names of people I know because there's the tendency on the part of the reader to pick up qualities of your friends and acquaintances in one's work, anyway. Sometimes I even take names from other books. I finished reading Atonement a few weeks back and feel in love with the name Robbie and everything that the character could represent through that name.

Re. reusing names, I've used Elise more than once, but that is because the character has had several incarnations in different stories (albeit slightly different). I figure you can use a character/name as many times as you want until one of the stories gets published.

10:29 AM  
Blogger Hebdomeros said...

No baby books, but I do look online sometimes. I usually only do that when I want a name to be "symbolic" or somewhat related to what's going on in a story. In those cases I'll be looking for the meanings and roots of the names. Sometimes I'll parody people I don't like, like my current boss, and transform the name just enough to keep me out of trouble.

I'll also sometimes use the last names of dead artists and writers, and use a more common contemporary name for the first name. For example, I have a snooty artist who appears in a couple pieces named Aaron Tzara, the last name coming from poet Tristan Tzara.

Names I want to use: I really, really want to use the name Indigo for a female character, but haven't found the right character yet. For a male, I'm searching for a way to use the name Godiah Spray. I like the way it sounds, and it was the equivalent of John Doe in 18th century England, used as a generic name for unknown dead bodies. I just need a reason to use it.

12:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Godiah Spray, like the plantation.

There's a park in my town called "Mosley Pines" which a friend used for the name of a Blues singer's ghost.

Telephone books are grand for names, though I just use weird symbolic names that only I "get".

Claudia is pretty. And German.

3:56 PM  
Blogger Hebdomeros said...

The plantation in Maryland, near St. Mary's? Yeah, exactly the same. That's where they got the name from, and also the first place I heard it.

9:21 AM  
Blogger Michèle said...

I consult a baby book too. The phone book is a great source, especially for last names. Another place to get names is television. I found the name Tenley while watching "The Price is Right." Haven't written her story yet . . . I guess she's my own Jade!

2:26 PM  
Blogger girlzoot said...

On the whole I tend to be very Dickens when it comes to naming my characters.

I tend to name them in a fashion that defines them throughout the rest of the story.

6:46 PM  
Blogger LadyLitBlitzin said...

Ah, you guys, sorry -- crazy week with too many moving parts.

I am totally cracking up -- so glad that so many of us use baby name books! Michele thanks for the tip about the phone book too, that is a great suggestion!

Maktaaq, I love Merlin Tarantula. That's awesome! I can't wait to read a story with that character! :)

And Jen, that's true. I could probably use "Jade" to my hearts content until I finally find a home for one of the Jade stories, ha. It turns out, though, that usually, I'll just realize the character isn't so Jade.

Hebdomeros, that's interesting about Godiah Spray, being a John Doe type character. I had no idea. And even though I lived in St. Mary's for 4 years, I went to the college down there, as did a few of the visitors to this blog, I don't remember that plantation. Hmm... And Indigo is a very cool name!

As for Girlzoot's comments, I agree that Dickensian names are cool. Dickens did a great job of these really immensely illustrative names, that became so emblematic of the characters themselves. Ebenezer Scrooge? Amazing...

And Anonymous... does Claudia mean warrior princess? I do know a very cool little girl named Claudia!

8:38 PM  
Blogger Maktaaq said...

Phonebooks - that is a good idea!

When the big Taiwan earthquake happened in 1999, I went through the papers making sure none of my friends' names were there...and I found some really cool names among the casualties. I just never could come to terms to using the names of people who've passed away, even though they had fascinating names.

2:52 AM  
Blogger LadyLitBlitzin said...

Maktaaq -- as said as it was that they were casualties, it might be a nice way to immortalize them, though, other than the efforts of their families. Another way of looking at it...

8:23 PM  
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