Monday, May 11, 2009

What's in a Name?

I can tell that school year's almost over. Not just because of the calendar or the weather, but from the conversations I’m having with teen readers, both on-line and in person. They’re asking me technical questions about the craft of writing, telling me about their works-in-progress, and looking forward to getting their hands on the keyboards and around ball point pens.

More than one budding writer lately has asked about naming the main characters, how I go about it and how I know it’s right. So I thought that would be a fun thing to talk about today.

Here’s how the naming of heroine Kate DelVecchio from How to Hook a Hottie went down...

#1: I'd known I wanted a big, strong, Italian last name. My own--Ferraro--translates to "iron worker," and DelVecchio, from what pigeon Italian I speak, I knew DelVecchio meant "of old." I liked that. Old souls. Done.

#2: Now I thought about her persona, her traits…who she was. A serious girl, an honor student, budding entrepreneur. No matter what name appeared on her birth certificate, she would never allow herself to be called by a fun little nickname with a heart over the i, okay? (FYI: Tina looks very silly with a heart over the i. Take my word for it.)

#3: I got into the heads of the parents, specifically the mother, who I knew “wore the pants in the family.” I knew Mrs. DelVecchio had had big dreams of being a dynamo in the business world, and felt set-back by the birth of our heroine so early in her life. From this, I concluded she would name her daughter after some Grand Dame in society. Which I decided would be Katharine Hepburn.

#4: So, jump back to #1. I could go with the full name Katharine. Kat. Kate. Kitty. Kathy. Hmmm…

#5: By that time, I already had the hero’s name. Jason Dalrymple, but everyone called him Dal. It had come to me in a dream, and I simply loved it. The thing was…Dal was definitely unusual. (How many Dals do YOU know?) So I didn’t want the heroine’s name to be too different, either, too. I didn’t want readers struggling to remember both their names.

#6: So…in summary: Birth name Katharine, no cute nickname, looking for easy recognition for the reader. Kate! It was strong, pretty, very well-known…just right.

That’s how I do it. I’d love to hear from other writers about their processes, as well as from readers who have thoughts or questions (or just want to say hi)!


How to Hook a Hottie, 2009 Rita Finalist
The ABC's of Kissing Boys
Top Ten Uses for an Unworn Prom Dress


Thao said...

Thanks for telling us the story, I always love to know how the authors name their characters, especially when the name is unusual : )

Janie Emaus said...

Names are so important. Mine just seem to pop into my head when I start writing, but sometimes they change as I learn who the character is and they tell me that the name I've chosen isn't right!

Summer said...

Names are awesome! I love looking at just for fun. I don't really like using "common" names for main characters but I don't wanna get too outrageous either. Usually, I just pick names I like that seem to work well and last names... just make them up but also choose them according to what ethnicity or nationality I'm going for. My fave name I've used for a character actually came from a real person. I never would have heard of the name if it wasn't for her and I love it.

SM Blooding said...

I, too, like to pick one exotic name and one fairly normal name for the main characters of my books. However, I've been informed that my idea of "normal name" is still a little out there. *shrug*

The setting also has a lot to do with the name. If you're in a fantasy realm, you're not expecting to meet an elf named Joe. However, that might be funny.

TinaFerraro said...

I should probably add that my last names are usually unusual! Antonovich, Hoppenfeffer, Hickey, to name a few.

SM Blooding, I laughed at the idea of an elf named Joe. Maybe you've gotta do that!

Rosemary, I'm surfing to your blog right now...

Thanks, everyone!

stephhale said...

I have to have the perfect name. Carson & I are actually disagreeing about this right now on our picture book. I want to name the dog Lucky (after our dog that passed) and for some reason he wants to name it Peter. Who names their dog Peter? The kid doesn't get my process. ;) I'm very fond of using city names. I also love looking at the social security websites at names.

Cara King said...

For some reason, I have a habit of giving the heroines of my romance novels classical names. (I've done Atalanta, Diana, and Aurora.) Not sure why! (Except in the case of Atalanta -- it showed her father was a scholarly type, and it tied in with her character.)

In my YA, though, I'm much more varied. I do look at all sorts of name lists for my secondary characters, but the names of my protagonists so far have mostly just come to me in some mysterious fashion. (My money's on alien telepathy.)

Celise said...

A while back, I used to be a medical claims processor. I worked the graveyard shift, 4 10's (4pm-230am) data entering claims. I got the majority of my names from processing those claims. During that yr long stint, I created a nice name list for both boys and girls.

Like Summer,I don't like using common names. The characters from my first two books (Skylar Knight and Kedren Price, Mataya Black Hawk and Jarek Thanos) I got from the names list, however, the name of my MC from my YA series--Draven Atreides--came from two different movies.

I think the best thing about writing is naming your characters.