Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What's In A Name?

Quite a bit it seems.  So much it's giving Wendy Sparrow a good deal of trouble since she keeps changing her character's names.  I can sympathize.  When I was writing Schmitty the Pirate, names were the biggest challenge I faced.  Of course, that was before I started querying.  The antagonist changed names a bunch of times.  Schmitty's father changed names a bunch of times.  Schmitty's love interest changed names a bunch of times.  Ship's names changed.  Places names changed.  I think the only thing that didn't change was Schmitty.  Although, looking at my original notebook, I didn't know how to spell it.  I found both Schmitty and Smitty within the same paragraph a few times.  I don't know why I settled on one over the other, but it seems a symptom of something I've been dealing with my whole life.

When I was born, my parents named me Chris.  Three days later they changed it to Matt, claiming I didn't look like a Chris.  What newborn looks like anything, other than a wrinkly, pink mess?  Then there was the running joke I was actually called Julio, because I had been made in Spain.  And there was a family friend who insisted on calling me George.  I never knew why, but his whole family called me George.  I don't think they knew my real name, but at this point neither did I.  And then, a few years back, I moved into a new house and my next door neighbor started calling me Dwayne.  I don't think I caught it the first few times he said it, but by the time I realized it, it was too late to say anything.  I'd been answering to Dwayne, and so I had to become Dwayne.  I didn't want to embarrass him and got away with it for two years, until my wife outed me.

Alas, I fear this will never end.  Even when I tell people my name they get it wrong.  I must speak too fast.  My last name starts with a C, so when I say Matt C***, people hear Mac.  And so, I'm Mac.  So be it.  No one can pronounce my last name anyway.

The point is, character names are important.  I try to give them meaning.  Schmitty's real name is Alistair, which means defender of the people.  And he does a lot of that.  I changed the name of an evil parrot to Matata, which is Swahili for trouble maker.  And he certainly is.

And so is this name business.  I don't always put that much thought into it.  I probably should.  How do you name your characters?


Wendy Sparrow said...

LOL. An explanation! Yay! Plus, you mentioned my blog. Thanks.

I read somewhere that searching IMDb's movie databases and looking at the names in the bigger movies (where you can get down to the gaffers and extras) is a good source for both first and last names. I just did that and came up with a whole cheat sheet of names. It was awesome!

Thanks, Chris, for visiting my blog!

Lost Wanderer said...

I consider my names very carefully. Some come instantly. Actually some characters come with a name. That's who they are, and that's the end of it. Sometimes, I am forced to change it, because another main character might also have a similar name, as I explained in my post about Character Names.

But if I don't have a name then I spend a great deal of effort finding the right one, and I usually look for names with meaning.

Erica said...

LOL- You're too funny George- I love that. I have a cat named George.

I'm totally random with names. They pop in and I write them down and see how it goes. I keep them unique, but not weird. Also, I don't use any of the main characters first letter in anyone else's names- don't want anyone to be confused :)

My recent ones were because the MC has hippy parents. They don't have to mean something, just sound right to me...

Good post :)

Kara said...

I like to give my characters "real" names: AKA, no Starbucks coffee flavors, places in Switzerland, or Celebrity Baby Names (Apple. Need I say more?)

Kathy said...

Well, Dwayne...

Good question. I don't honestly know the answer. I just pull names out of the air.

Although I did name my main character April Susan Sullivan because it forms the initials ASS. And she does act like one sometimes.

Zahir Blue said...

I nearly always go with some kind of "flavor" to names. For a wealthy family with three sons, I named them after the three royal brothers in the Wars of the Roses--Edward, George and Richard. Or I'll work up an elaborate (and far-too-subtle) pun based on a character someone reminds me of. A background character who is a "Perpetual Curate" in 19th century England I named Patrick because that was the name of the Bronte sisters' father, a Perpetual Curate in the 19th century. And so on.

Natalie said...

This was so funny Matt!

I've been following you for a while but I think this might be my first comment-- so hi :)

I think I'm like you I put some thought into finding meaningful character names sometimes but mostly I just give them the first name to pop into my head. (Sometimes I'll change these when I revise).

Matt said...

I guess everyone has their own method. Whatever works.

Some of you ladies are giving me an even bigger identity crisis than I already had.

Natalie - welcome. It's nice to have you here.

Kara - you're not going to like this. I have one character named for two towns in Switzerland - Schilthorn Grindelwald has yet to apppear. I'm saving him for a sequel. Just know I named him long before I read Harry Potter.

Tina Lynn said...

I sometimes put tons of thought into a name and then sometimes I don't. Depends on my mood, I guess.

Maybe you should start doing the Julia Roberts thing from Pretty Woman when someone asks you your name.

"What's your name?"

"What do you want it to be?"

That way, you already expect them to call you something other than Matt:D