I have two younger siblings. When my parents were picking out their names, they looked at our family tree, they considered names they just liked, and the they took note of the popular names at the time so they could stay away from them. My brother’s name comes directly from a distant relative. Outside of my family, I’d never heard it before. The second he’s born though, boom! there were all these other kids named Cole popping up (although he’s the only Coleman I know–he just goes by Cole). Same thing with my sister. Madison and Sydney were all the rage when she was born. Then my parents named her Emily and suddenly there were Emilys all over the place.
I’ve noticed this trend in literature too. In my current WIP, I originally named one of my characters Warner, thinking it was a name I liked but hadn’t heard much. Then I found out there are several books out, like “Shatter Me” by Taherah Mafi, with a Warner. So I switched the name to Warren. Not long after the switch, I got a new story from a critique partner with a Warren. I then realized I’d named my character’s best friend Jessa, and my CP’s character’s best friend in an earlier story was Tessa. I’d already changed my character’s name because it didn’t feel right, but I think it didn’t feel right because it wasn’t my name.
It got me thinking, where do we derive our names? There’s a good chance my CP’s Tessa subconsciously spawned Jessa in my head. Possibly the same for her and Warren. But I never read the books with Warner. Like my parents, I thought I’d come up with an original name.
Recently, I’ve seen a lot of tweets from agents regarding names; asking for new and different names. Not wacky names, but they’ve seen a ton of Cassie and Bree and Ally. I noticed this myself during the Writer’s Voice contest. Trust me, when you read 200 queries in a row you start to notice the similarities, especially with character names. Where are they coming from though? Homages to friends? Names the writer just likes? Other literature or blog posts and what-not seeping into the subconscious?
Some of mine come to me already formed. With my last ms, I was trying to go to sleep and the characters appeared in my head, already named. Most of my characters require more thought, though. I make a mental note when I come across a name I like and store it away for later. Then, when I’m writing, I think about what name best fits the character’s personality. I usually research the name meanings and try to make the meaning fit the character. The hardest part is steering clear of people I know. Maybe I shouldn’t worry, but I don’t want someone seeing the name and thinking I got the character from them, especially if it’s a villain. (Caveat: of course I’m inspired by people I know, but no one person is ever entirely a character. I would hate it if I named a character Hannah and pointed out all her flaws and problems and my real friend Hannah thought it was all her, you know?) I kind of did this in my first ms. It was a fantasy story, so I took the names of family and altered them. Of course then I started feeling bad for not including everyone; then I worried about how those people would think they were being portrayed. From then on I’ve just steered clear, although the MC in my current WIP is derived from a sweet old lady I went to church with growing up–I just liked the name, though, and it was something I hadn’t seen before (although I fully expect it to start cropping up now, haha!).
I don’t want kids, so instead of dreaming of what I would name my children one day, I dream of what to name my characters. Coming up with names in stories is easier for me than naming things in real life. My husband and I pondered for days on what to name our pets. I got a new car last night and struggled with a suitable name (she’s a white Honda CR-V). Previous vehicles were Ol’ Smokey (1992 Pontiac Sunbird that burned oil like a freight train), The Gray Ghost (1989 Jeep Cherokee that was four or five different colors gray), and The Who Ride (1996 Nissan Sentra with pimp tints–it came that way, not my doing). I couldn’t figure out what to call the new one though. Eventually, I let go and pretended I was writing it in a story and bam! I had her name. Pearl. Hubby added Minnie to it since she’s a small SUV, so she’s now Minnie Pearl. (Side note, I had a cat named Minnie when I was a kid. My dad helped me come up with her name. I thought Minnie was ironic because she was a cat named after a mouse, which was part of Daddy’s thinking as well, but we had different concepts for the middle name. I wanted Mae, after my best friend; he wanted Paws. I thought he was saying she had little paws because he was a kitten, and I thought it was stupid because she was going to grow. So I held my ground and she became Minnie Mae. Only when I got older did I put Daddy’s names together and get what he was going for. Minnie Paws…if you haven’t gotten it, say it out loud, ha!).
Where do you get your character names? Are they derivative from something else you’ve read? Inspired by friends/family? Or do they have a deeper meaning?