Friday, October 10, 2008

What's in a Name?

Time: 8:20am (which is kinda early for me to be sitting here writing)
Breakfast: Nothing yet, but the coffee is calling my name.
Music: My iPod is downstairs and I really should grab it because the gardeners are here.

Names are an important part of life. It’s what we answer to and really, who we are. I actually never realized the significance of identifying with my name until recently.

I got married a little over a year ago (June 27, 2007 to be exact), but never got around to changing my last name. First I was lazy, and then things came up in life which stopped me from going through the process …until now. When someone would bring up the fact that I still had my maiden name with being married for over a year, I always complained about having to go to the Social Security office, DMV (EVERYONE hates the DMV, am I right?) and calling every single credit card company, doctor, insurance, bill, etc. to change it. It never dawned on me what changing my name meant.

Now, a month later after starting the process, I feel like I’m in an identity crisis. Paperwork still has my maiden name, others have my new one and I don’t know if I’m coming or going. Each time I have to use my last name, I wonder if I got it right when signing or answering. It’s an odd feeling that I hope goes away soon!

Now to relate my rambling to writing! I’ve come to realize in the name changing game they are just as important to my characters and also to characters in the books I read. When I don’t like a name, it pulls me out of the story each time it’s on the page. Do I want that to happen to my character? Of course not, but I also want a name that stands out and defines who my character is, inside and out. Names speak volumes and can give the reader an idea into who the character is and where he/she comes from.

In my current WIP, my male protagonist has an unusual name, Pence. I came about the name in an odd way. I was watching a baseball game, and a player on the apposing team’s name was Hunter Pence. I was in the middle of writing my first notes on the book, trying to come up with names for each character. I paused when I heard, “Hunter Pence slides into second base”. I instantly thought, “Wow, Hunter Pence, what a great name! I like the ring of it.” Of course, as I pointed out, names need to fit a person and it didn’t fit him AT ALL, but Pence did. I did a little research, realized that Pence was a super rare name and right away my character became Pence McCree. I think it fits him to a tee.

Now that all of my characters for the book have their names solidly in place, I hope the readers will see them as I do, not only fitting with their given names, but also the names shaping their identity.

I pose the question, how do you pick your characters' names?


Erik Smetana said...

Pence McKree has a nice ring to it. An ill fitting character name, especially one belonging to a lead in a story does the same thing to me, I just don't connect and slowly start not to care. I want the characters to feel real and sometimes that means surreal names.

Go figure.

Tracy Belsher said...

Bang on with this, Tami. I spend a lot of time stewing over character names. I used to go for really flowery, lofty ones. But I was able to work through that addiction. :)

Now I appreciate choices like "Bill" for a vampire in the Sookie Stackhouse books / True Blood series.

Ironic names are just cool.

elliott610 said...

I write fiction but have this bone about not making things like names and events up. Since my latest centered around two shamans; I studied all I could of the Iroquois and used authentic names.
Orenda is my youngish Indian shaman. I've also used baby names websites to find different and interesting names. My favorite name is Neranda, she is the mate of my elfin, Kave.

Tami Klockau said...

Thanks Eric! I'm rather fond of the name Pence myself. :)

I'm with you on not caring. If the name is too crazy, or even the slang, it ruins it for me. Sad but true.

Tami Klockau said...

Elliott, awesome names! If the name has a purpose like you mentioned your characters' backgrounds I love that. It gives the story authenticity. But, weird names for the purpose of weird names just doesn't fly with me.