Onward to day three! Today’s question is:
3. How do you come up with names, for characters (and for places if you’re writing about fictional places)?
I haven’t had many fictional locales other than a few business and street names, so we can dispense with the parenthetical part of the question and stick with character names.
I don’t spend much time on character names, to be honest. Sometimes they come as random snatches from a cloud of possibilities, like a lottery ping pong ball. I do a lot of Flash Fiction Challenges, but because I only have 90 minutes to write my stories, I don’t allow names to suck up more than a few seconds of those precious minutes. My current WIP, My Fair Vampire, started off as a flash fiction story and I’ve never for a minute considered changing the heroine’s name, though one of her love interest’s last name did change when I made him Native American.
I try to stay away from the most popular names of the day, at least for the main characters. I’ll use them for supporting characters. I like southern names; I like old-fashioned names. Sometimes, I make names up, put on my Lewis Carroll Jabberwocky hat and type out the random sounds that pop into my brain. I reserve those for last names mostly, and for sillier pieces of flash fiction.
My current heroine, Dori, is actually a Doris. This was my grandmother’s name, modernized a bit by dropping the “s” and with a nod to Ellen Degeneris’ ditzy fish character. The more I wrote Dori’s story, the more it seemed to fit her–this misfit, unloved loner who always drew the short straw. A character like that just had to have a yucky name (by today’s standards anyway…sorry Momma Doris), just had to.
Dori’s housemates are hispanic so I borrowed the name of a typist who used to work at my firm when I lived in Albuquerque, the setting of Dori’s story. The other I stole from a street near my office in downtown Dallas, San Jacinto street, that I feminized into Jacinda, a Spanish-sounding Lucinda. Turned out Jacinda is actually a somewhat popular name.
Dori’s hunter friend, Jude, got his name from my nephew’s and brother-in-law’s middle name. His last name, Yazzie, is a very common Navajo surname.
Dori’s sire, Donovan, is Irish and I must confess to simply choosing a stereotypical Irish name. However, that’s actually his last name, not his first name. His first name, Gerald or Jerry, was my uncle’s name, and that side of the family bore the Irish name of Gillespie. (Gillespie is also the source of my pen name Gillian, since the domain names for [decent first name] Gillespie were already claimed.)
I’ve previously posted on character names and how they can evoke different reactions from readers so I won’t repeat myself. Names aren’t the part of writing I agonize over; I’ve got too many other things to worry about. Maybe when I’ve nailed the craft of writing, I can devote more time to it, but that’s not likely to happen anytime soon. There’s a wondrous freedom in naming on a whim. Does the character in mind subconsciously drive that choice or does the choice drive the character development? I sure wish I knew. I’d love to hear your comments on that question.