Saturday, March 12, 2011

What's in a Name?

Congratulations to Tiffany K for winning the signed copy of DESIRE UNTAMED. Tiffany, please contact me at with your mailing address. Thanks, everyone, for joining in!

I always thought that picking the names of my characters would be easy. Just thumb through a baby name book, find a few names I liked, and that would be it, right? Maybe it works like that for some authors. Not for me. I have to like the name, of course, but it's so much more complicated than that. The name has to, in some way, capture the essence of the character for me. It becomes an important vehicle for understanding that character.

In comparison, naming kids is easy. And I can say that because I've named two of them and it wasn't easy at all. My husband's and my tastes in names were poles apart. The thing with naming babies is, you don't know them. You're trying to give them a name they'll be happy with for a lifetime, but unlike naming characters, you're not trying to fit their name with their personality, because you don't know them yet.

Before I choose a name for a character, I have to understand her (or him). I knew that Kara (the heroine of Desire Untamed) was a sweet, spunky, girl-next-door type long before I knew her name. I knew Delaney (the heroine of Obsession Untamed) was a tough human FBI agent and Skye (Passion Untamed) was a sweet Mage witch with a pure heart. Their names came later, and not easily. I tried several names each before I found the one that clicked for me. In Kara's case, I went through at least six before finding the one that fit.

So how do I decide which name fits? Like so many things having to do with the writing process, I look inside myself for the answer. When I hit on the element, in this case the name, that feels right, I know it. I feel it in my gut. But I don't always feel it instantly. With names, in particular, I have to live with them a little while before I know, although this 'living with them' usually takes place during the plotting process, before I ever start writing the book. Rarely will I change a name after the book is underway any more, though that used to happen all the time.

As I plot and work out the key aspects of my story, I try out different names until I find the ones that feel right.

Okay, so I have this D.C. cop named Jeff. I'll work out the story a bit using Jeff as the hero until I know one way or the other. Nope. Not Jeff. Jeremy. A quick Find/Replace and all the Jeffs become Jeremys and I continue working out the story. Jeremy is on the trail of a serial killer. Nope, not Jeremy. Jack. Jack is on the trail of a serial killer. Find/Replace, continue working, gut check...? Yes. Yes, Jack is the right name for my hero.

A human character generally gets a fairly common name (Kara, who at least thinks she human), Delaney (okay, not that common, but I like it), Natalie, Christy, Charlie, Harrison, Larsen (yes, I admit that I have a thing about surnames as first names). The immortal races get names that sound a little more old-fashioned to me, more romantic, since most have been alive for centuries (Melisande, Olivia, Julianne, Ariana). I make up names for a lot of the immortals (Inir, Birik, Satanan, Baleris). I've found a couple of excellent fantasy name generators on-line to help with creating these new names.

Once I know the key pieces of the story, and my characters have come fully to life for me, names included, I'm ready to start writing the book. Ultimately, although I want names that please my ear and that fit the characters, all that really matters is that, for whatever reason, those names help bring the characters to life for me.

For a chance at a signed copy of Desire Untamed, book 1 in my Feral Warriors series, tell me a few names that you think are great romance hero/heroine names. I'm always looking for ideas!


Sullivan McPig said...

I think Sullivan would make a great name for a hero ;-)

I like names like Kane, Troy, Darius, Sebastian
for women:
Nuira, Nadira, Kessi, Moira

Sharon S. said...

Fantastic post! I love hearing how authors come up with names. Some authors seem to have no problem. The right name just pops into their heads. I have a...let's just call him "fantasy dude" in the back of my brian ;) He has been there for a long time, but I can't put a name to him. I've tried to, but nothing fits. I couldn't imagine picking a name for him if I was writing a story.

I like the old fashion romantic names too, I think . Karina Cooper picked one of my favorites for her character, Silas.

Heather Palmer said...

Great Post Pamela! I struggle with names for my characters as well. Thoughe eventually you land on the right one.

I love the names Jace and Devin for Hero names. Heroines I love Lyssa and Kylie.

Heather Palmer

wont said...

I've always wondered how authors decide on names. Thanks for this.

Most of these names could be for male of female:

Ellison, Sheridan, √Član, Compton, Davis, Evan, Edlyn, Eden. Not sure what my deal is with "E" names!

wont said...

I meant to add, another great source for names, and it's free is the telephone book. Especially from a large city. Every variation of every name is in there!

Cindy L said...

I agree Pamela I've come up with a name and then as the character developed it just didn't fit.
Cara and Logan are two of my favorites.

Amber S said...

While I love unique names, sometimes there seems like there are too many of them in fiction. A good, strong name, even if it's relatively common is more believable, imo :)

literati_rain66 said...

One of my favorite names for a fictional man is Malachi. A few more would be Leland, Corbin, and Grayson.

For a woman, I like Isabelle, Grace, Adalia, and Harmony.

Of course I like many, many more, with new ones being discovered each day, but those are a few of my stand-by favorites.

Another good place I look is TV/Movie credits. :)

Karen H said...

Great blog! For me, names with a more ethnic feel have always appealed.

For women - Suki, Lexi, Bridie and Kira are among my favs.

For men - Liam, Johann, Gunnar and Callum

I just wanted to thank you for a great series and am looking forward to Hawke's book and finally meeting the new Fox.

theJeepDiva said...

I like names that are more than just names. Hunter, Dash (loved the name hated the character), Reign, I even read a Smoke recently.


Tiffany K said...

I like these names for men:

Kaine, Lucian, Bricker (have loved that name every since reading it in Lynsay Sands' Argeneau series) & Damon

For women I like these names:

Kierra, Chrissy, Elena, and Mia

Pamela Palmer said...

Great points! I'm regretting getting rid of my telephone books (they were each more than three inches thick--one white pages, one yellow).

There are a ton of unique names in fiction. I think that's why a vampire named Bill makes me smile (Sookie Stackhouse).

I'm glad you're enjoying the books, Karen!

Melissa (Books and Things) said...

Easy... for a heroine, I'd pick Melissa. Don't know why... it just has a "quality" about it. ;D

Brandy S said...

I like everyday names but spelled uniquely. Like you did with the Ferals. For instance my sons name is Nikolaus I pronouce it Nicholaus. IF I could re spell my name it would be Brandee Leigh, I tried in high school to change it but it was programmed into me and was hard to change!

JenM said...

For guys, I really like the names Nicholas and Lucas. I'm also kind of partial to Zachary (actually, I just like Zach), Daniel, David, and Ethan. I really dislike oddball names, or names that are hard to pronounce.

Girls are harder. I like classic Biblical names like Rebecca, Sarah, Miriam, Rachel. I'm not a big fan of the names that are currently popular like Chelsea, Brittany, Sierra, etc. I also don't like unisex names - it's too confusing to picture the person in my head when their name doesn't automatically trigger me to think "male" or "female".

Jolene Allcock and Family said...

Hi Pamela, great post. I really love unique names, but sometimes I wonder if I'm saying them right and half the time I am pretty sure I'm not. I was just talking to a friend on the phone the other day and we were talking about a character in a book I introduced her to and we were cracking up because we were both pronouncing the name differently. If it's an old or odd name with lots of letters sometimes I would appreciate the dictionary version of the name that gives me an idea LOL come on, I'm not that bright :) I really love the names Devon, Damen, Darius. Don't know why my obsession with D's but I love those :)


The Mrs said...

Great post! Also, I agree wholeheartedly with Jolene, I hate not knowing if I'm pronouncing the name right in my head.
Anywho..I love Sebastion, Garrick, Gareth (Loved David Bowie in Labyrinth!) and Scott. For women I really love my name as well as the name's of my sisters, I'm not trying to be selfcentered I just think my mom did a great job - Sara, Lisa and Amy. Monique, Marguerita and Gemma are great too!


Cylver said...

It's probably just as hard coming up with good character names as it is coming up with good baby names. After all, your books are your babies too, right?
For women, I like names that are sexually ambiguous, like Kendall, Morgan and Alex. For men, I like names with a little mystery attached, like Kieran, Matthias & Nicolae.

Ash Wolf said...

I, too, love finding out what made an author choose their character's name.
I love finding out the history of names as well. My name, Ashlee, was originally a boy's name. People began using it for girls back in the 50s, and there are many ways to spell it: Ashley, Ashlie, Ashleigh and so on.

For girl names: Samantha (Sam), Barbrah (Bobby), Daniel (Danny), America and Astrid.

For boy names: Valentine (Valenteen), Marcus, Kalvin, Ian, Sebastian, Sylvester, Patrick, and Zachary.

donnas said...

Great post. Im always interested in hearing about where the names come from. Sometimes I really like the unique names and something the classic are the best. It really comes down to when you are reading the character what seems to fit the best. Seriously some people are just not Emma's or Daniel's but than some are.

bacchus76 at myself dot com

Casey H said...

Some of my favorite names are:
Seth, Jacques, Adam and Micah.


Clary said...

I like the names Piper, Saide, Julianne, Alexandra, Eric, Aidan, Julius and Duncan

Clarissa P

meggerfly said...

I seem to have a thing for Irish names. I'm not sure why. I love the name Liam and Sean not spelled Shawn. I had a boyfriend once who was Greek and had a name that I loved: Tasos. Though off course he was called Tacos in high school when we were together. I also seem to like Conner and Angus. Scottish names...I have a problem with men with sexy accents...

Anonymous said...

Here's a few I've always liked Grant, Serriena, Lukas, Kieran, Ravan, Razual, Reid, Lucian, Jace, Jerrod, Jewel, Lacy, pheobe, Percy, MariAnn, Margurite, Nicolae, Tigarius, Jaxson, Conor, Hunter, Gunner, Daxion, Gem, Kallie, Rose, Zacharius, Angelica, Brianna, Ian, Stephan,Valarius, Walker, Winter, Arika,
oh goodness I'm stopping now great post
thanks, Millie

Heather said...

I've always liked unusual names, names that seem out there but capture a character completly. Ashla, Trisian, Quinn, Ven, Kade, Riley, Lucian, and Mayla. Just to name a few.