This week, I’m naming characters. Maybe you’d like your name written into my next book? Read to the end of the post to find out how you can nominate yourself into literary history. :)
I’ve begun work on my next novel. It’s been percolating away in my head for some time now. I’d done some research into the subject matter, and thought through some of the possible scenes, and especially hashed out how I wanted the story to end. I seem to need to know that right from the start.
But first scenes often seem to drop into my head in a flash of inspiration, and this one was no different. I believe it was around 3:00 a.m. that it crashed into my brain. I was, of course, just closing my computer. I opened it back up again, cranked out the scene, and then tried to go to sleep in the glow of the words.
And amazingly, it still looked pretty good to me in the morning.
So this week, I spent some time on names. Some authors don’t see names as all that important and go ahead and write without them, but I need to get to know my characters a little first, and a name seems like a pretty basic first ingredient. For a minor character or place name, I don’t mind throwing in a blank (I usually type ***) as I go along and come back to it later, in order to keep the words flowing, but I need to know the names of my central characters.
I usually check on the meaning of a name before I use it, and sometimes I name a character according to the meaning of his or her name. There are a couple of tools I like to use for that purpose.
A good tool is http://www.behindthename.com/. This site permits reverse look-up using the meaning of the name, but the database isn’t extensive.
The best tool I’ve found is http://babynamesworld.parentsconnect.com/. At this site, you can:
- perform a reverse lookup for meaning
- check popularity of the name
- discover the ethnic origin of a name or filter for it (For example, if a story was set in Finland, I could limit my search to Finnish names)
- search for either boy or girl or unisex names
- eliminate names that don’t pair well with a family/last name (Clark Kent, for example would be eliminated because there are two “k” sounds together at the end of the first name and beginning of the last–imagine how much further Superman might have gone if someone had just checked the baby name directory before naming him!)
Below are some screenshots from the site. The only negative for this site is there are ads which autoplay in the sidebar. Each time the server refreshes when a new option is chosen, they start over again, so they need to be paused multiple times (or mute your speakers while you view the site).
Once I have the character’s name, other parts of the personality seem easier to fleshed out.
Naming the Setting
It’s less important to me how I name places in my story. It’s not something I feel I must do before I can begin to write, for example, but I do put time into figuring out names of significant places in the story. I like to pick a real place to set the story, but call it by a fictional name. I did this in After the Snow Falls. I wrote a post last year about the inspiration for the fictional town of Point-du-Fleuve.
So how do I find fictional place names?
Well, I made Point-du-Fleuve up. I knew the setting was on a river. Fleuve means river in French, and the town was in Quebec, so that worked.
My new story is set in an Ontario town. So I Googled for a list of towns in New York state, right across the border, and found a place name that doesn’t appear on the map of Ontario.
I think I’m pretty happy with the names I’ve come up with for two of the main characters, but if you’d like to nominate your name for another character, or give me an idea for a fictional town name, please let me know by leaving your name suggestion in the comments, below.