Wednesday, June 20, 2007

What's in a Name?

By G.M. Malliet

Nina recently blogged about how she collects titles for stories. Strangely, I don't have such a list.

I do collect names for characters, though. I can hardly get through a book or newspaper without jotting down some interesting name or other I come across.

I think this is partly because I have a bad habit of naming a character and then changing that character's name endlessly with Search/Replace as I progress through the story. I think that happens because it is so important that the name fit the character, and as the character develops, so the name might need to change. Don't try this technique at home as it will quickly drive you crazy.

Anyway, here is my collection of interesting names - some first names, some last, some either/or:

de Hail
Chicken (really)
Lucretia Coffin Mott (1793-1880 – feminist from Nantucket)
Lancelot Andrewes (real name, translated bible)
Ivory Church
Vyvyan (male – first name of Oscar Wilde’s son)
Chantal Lavant, Levantal, or Laurant
Button Gwinnett (historical figure – revolutionary war)
Henrietta, nickname Hen


Mark Combes said...

I suck at names. Both remembering them when I meet people and coming up with them for my characters. You'll see a lot of Bob, Bill, Sally, and an occasional Shirley if I'm really feeling my oats. Although my lead character's love interest has an unusual name - Annick. Maybe there is hope for me yet...

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I love names, too. But because my main protagonist and her best friend (Odelia and Zenobia) have such unusual names, I try to keep the other characters more common. I often give away names in my books at charity auctions so that solves a lot of issues.

I really enjoy coming up with names for animals as well. When I was trying to find a cool name for one character's dog, I spotted the last name of Wainwright and knew instantly that was the dog's name.

My favorite fictional pet names, however, belong to others: Nina Wright's shitzapoo named Velcro and Chuck Zito's fish named Sushi.

Joe Moore said...

I was on a technology panel at the recent SleuthFest and discussed nifty ways of naming characters. Using the credit roll of any movie can produced a mountain of names. And if you need ethnic names, pick a motion picture that was shot in the desired country. Local crews are aways used. A list of these techniques and lots more useful links is on my website at

Well worth the price of admission.

Mark Terry said...

I think names of main characters is important. I do sort of audition names.

I don't remember how I came up with Derek Stillwater. I think I was fussing around with the last name and when I finally said "Stillwater" I thought, yeah, that works. It resonates for me, anyway.

Then, because I knew he was sort of a tough guy, I wanted something that had a hard sound to it, but frankly, Jack and John is sooooo overdone. Yet I wanted something reasonably distinctive. So I tried out names again, David, Don (not hard enough), Dan, Cal... Derek again, resonated for me.

And speaking of Joe Moore, here, I find Cotten Stone to be a pretty interesting name.

Nina Wright said...

After my last posting, no one will be surprised to learn that I keep lists of names.

Thanks, Sue Ann, for the nod to Velcro the shitzapoo (coming soon in WHISKEY AND WATER). He's one of my faves, too.

GM, I share your fondness for Hen as a nickname for Henrietta. A character in my Whiskey Mattimoe series has that name. She's a redhead, and she runs an inn called Red Hen's House.

From your list, I especially like Cosima and Frostbutter. Wonderful!

My current Names List includes the following, all cribbed from Real Life:
Stefawn Golliday
Linco Fister
Swiki Anderson
Mena Naumchick
Anna Dannibale
Julia Bonk

I never stroll through a cemetery without my notebook. Those folks aren't using those names anymore.....

Nina Wright
Whiskey and Tonic

Anonymous said...

To: Nina Wright
I am curious to know where you found the name Stefawn Golliday. That name belongs to me! I hope you aren't using my name in your books, if so you owe me some money.

Nina Wright said...

SG--Then you have the same name as my cousin, who's currently working in Australia! I know you're not her because she's flattered that I posted her name on my list. FYI: Names are not copyrighted. If they were, a famous author would owe ME money for using my name for the villain in his latest book! I found that amusing, and so did my friends.

Relax, SG. I'm a novelist. I never write about real people. I don't even know YOU. Odds are, though, that novelists eventually end up using names that belong to somebody. I have no plans to use my cousin's name, which you say is the same as yours. Are you sure another author hasn't used your name already? Mine has been used. Anybody's name can be. Most of us think that's fun. Take care.