Monday, March 10, 2008

A Rose is A Rose . . .

But what if she turns out to be Lily?

Or Gretchen? Or Cassandra?

In other words, names are tricky. With the advent of search and replace you can, as a friend of mine did, turn Marcus into Magnus, or as another did, turn Harrison into Michael (or was it the other way around?).

In theory it works. Unsuspecting readers have no idea that it's happened.

But as an author, can you ever get past the fact that a character named Rose will do something that Kelly or Saffron or Betsy would never do? I don't think I could.

I've never met a Michael who behaved like a Harrison. Or vice versa. And if I don't have a name for a person, he -- or she -- doesn't have a personality at all.

Most of the time heroes and heroines appear with names firmly in place. Sebastian, for example, could never be anyone else. The last hero I wrote was a bit tricky because he wasn't intended to be a hero. He was the hero (Elias's) brother, Peter.

That's The Prof's name. I have way too much invested in what that name means to me so I couldn't envision a hero who wasn't a two-dimensional version of The Prof. Ergo, Peter in the book needed an adjustment.

He was happy to comply. In fact, he told me he already had. And I discovered that when he'd left New York for Hawaii to go to university, he'd gone deliberately to find himself, to discover who he was when he was not a part of a large, demanding Greek-American family. The first thing he'd done was to change Peter for another variant of his name and thus begin to reinvent who he was.

He became PJ.

It worked for him. It worked for me. It worked for everyone but the copyeditor -- until she discovered she didn't have to go back through and put in periods after each of his initials. After that she was a happy camper, too, and we all got along fine.

Sometimes, when characters don't come with names attached, I send them away again. I figure if they don't even know their own names, they don't know enough for me to write about them.

But sometimes minor characters don't come with names and I'm obliged to help them out. For this I have a half a shelf of name books. Among the most useful are Names Through the Ages by Teresa Norman and The New American Dictionary of Baby Names. They both take a somewhat historical approach to naming and so help me out with name popularity in times and places.

I've also spent more time than anyone not having sextuplets should with Beyond Jennifer and Jason and its sequel, Beyond Jennifer and Jason, Madison and Montana, not to mention its ethnic spin-offs, Beyond Shannon and Sean and Beyond Charles and Diana.

Let's face it, I'm a sucker for name books. I think it's the potential that I see there. I run across a name and I begin to envision the person who would wear it. And then I think, hmmm. What if ...? And sometimes I begin to see them in action, find them talking to other people whose names I also discover by reading more name books ...

Got any good name books on your shelves? Or good names you'd love to see in a book? As I'm working on my 61st book, I should be running out by now. I have a few on the wait-list hoping that I'll get around to them.

But if you've got a good one and you don't mind sharing, I'd love to hear it. Can't promise I'll use it -- I'd have to be able to envision the character . . . but I'm willing to try.

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6 Comments:

Blogger Kate Hardy said...

Names definitely change a character. I thought my agent was being a bit, um, eccentric when I talked to her about the problem I had with my hero, and she told me to change his name and it would sort itself out. She was absolutely spot on.

I use the Collins Gem book of baby names. There used to be a really good website called Eponym which grouped names, along with their meanings, but sadly that's no longer with us.

11 March, 2008  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

That's neat that your agent was so wise, Kate. I've had that happen when I was just starting a book. But I haven't experienced it when I was a ways into the story. I'll keep it in mind in case it does.

I remember Eponym, but I hadn't used it in a while so didn't realize it was gone. That's too bad.

11 March, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anne ~ I just finished Flynn & Sara!! Well worth the wait, thanks for telling their tale!

Names ~ I have a prefrence for Devin and Whit, along with Jessa and Caroline.

Now you've used some great names. My all time favorite: MACE!! Loved that book, loved the name!!

Kim

12 March, 2008  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Kim, I like your name choices! Whit could be an interesting hero. Hmmm. One of my g-grandmothers was Caroline. I've always liked that name, too.

Glad you liked Mace. I have fond memories of him! Thanks for reminding me.

12 March, 2008  
Blogger Madeline said...

Hi Anne,
I've always liked the names Shawna, Chantelle and Katelyn for girls, and Thorn, Travis and Francesco for boys. I don't know if they are book worthy names but, they are some of my favorites.
Mads:)

13 March, 2008  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

I tried once to have a "Chantal" Mads, but my editor said, "Too clicheed." And she ended up being Susan! I like Thorn and Travis. Used to know a Travis who was "HOT." I could think of him, I guess. Hmmm. Haven't considered Francesco but I can see it working. Thanks!

14 March, 2008  

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