Thanks to Paul who wrote two posts about this on his blog, I’ve had character names on my mind. And not just names, but the process for selecting names.
(As I don’t have children, I can’t really say naming a character is harder than naming a child. But it is.)
I generally just use the first name that comes to mind with very little thought to it. I don’t try to put hidden meaning into the names. I just pick a name and run with it.
Sometimes I get lucky and that meaning is just there – like with Layla. I selected that name as I was writing Mad Dogs. I just put it in there. I was writing, making a comparison to the female character, and “Like Layla,” just appeared on the page. After I had written it a couple times and she came to life a little, I looked up the name meaning out of curiosity, to see if it fit.
Layla means dark beauty and born in the night. It fit perfectly. In fact, I just did a little more reading on it, and it’s absolutely the most perfect name I could have chosen. And it was by accident.
Most of the time, though, I develop a list of names for each character archetype – all without realizing it. So I have a list of names for the handsome hero who is strong, dependable and throws a solid punch. I have names for the heroine, who needs very little rescuing. I have names for the trusty sidekicks, the villains, the adorable best friends.
There are a few names I really like, and few that came out of nowhere but they fit the character so well, I’ve stuck with them. (Like Ruby, the leading lady in Verge.)
By doing this, I ended up with a lot of crossover names. Like Jay. I cannot seem to develop a story without using the name Jay. Maybe it’s some kind of name conditioning leftover from junior high when I saw “Men in Black” in the theater eight times, then bought the VHS and watched it countless times after that.
I managed to avoid using Jay in Verge, because his archetype didn’t fit the story. The challenge now, since Jay is the protagonist in Mad Dogs, is to change the names of all my other Jays… A task I don’t want to do. All of my Jays are very special. They’re generally the hero’s best friend, never the primary focus, but always more intriguing than the hero. (At least I think so.) Mad Dogs is the first time one of my Jays is the star of the story.
When I started writing Mad Dogs, I started without a character in mind. After a few hundred words, I knew the character was male. Then he started to come to life, and when it came time to give him a name, I gave him the only name that truly fit him – Jay.
Sometimes names just fit. For instance, I recently wrote a short story that was inspired by a friend of mine. He had an every-day-life, ordinary experience, and I told him to write a story about it. He said, “No, you write it.” OK, fine.
He gave me three specific pieces that I merged together to create this short story. One of those pieces he gave me three years ago (or so) in a Facebook status. I just jotted it down quickly in my notebook… “Erik saw the devil today…”
That is the start of my story. Now I cannot change the name of my character. It’s got to be Erik. I thought of a variety of other names, but none seem to fit the character or story as well as Erik does.
That’s how it is with all of my Jays. They all just fit. I have a similar name crossover situation with Verge – I used the name Camden. I have another story (unwritten as of yet) that uses the same name. A completely different character, completely different story, but same name.
Would it be confusing? Would using Jay several times in different stories – very different stories – be confusing? I guess we’ll find out when I get around to writing those stories.
But now, I’m editing Mad Dogs. And except for Jay, Layla, and one other character (Kanacki), I’m not a fan of the names I’ve selected. There are a few minor characters with decent names – I love Sutton Kates. That name was brilliant.
I needed a name for a very minor character. On the radio was DJ Jonathon Sutton, and they played a song by someone named Kate something-or-other. A little merging, and voilá, I had the name I needed.
I hope as the edits progress and these characters become more multi-dimensional, they’ll grow into their names or the right name will make itself known. I guess, if I scrunch my face in disgust when I read about Isaiah, I should change his name. When I indifferently read about Violet, I keep the name.