Saturday, 2 October 2010

Namely Tips - Joan Lennon


Naming things - children, pets, characters ... I think there must be a special, bespoke little pleasure centre in the human brain just for that. I love naming things. When I was thinking about writing this post with some sort of title like Tips for Naming Characters, the word "naming" morphed into the word "namely" - and a character was born. He is called Namely Tips. He is a young Victorian artist-in-training. He has pale wavy hair and a soft pale moustache and pale blue eyes and he is nervous around women. I can see him clearly. And there is no other moniker on earth that would absolutely suit him so well.

Children ask me at events about where I get the names for my characters. Telling them that they come out of thin air has never seemed to work as an answer. I do explain that for the characters in my medieval books I looked at lists of names from the period for inspiration. In the book I'm writing currently, I have a Bhutanese dictionary which I'm naming my characters out of. But when I'm engaged in research of this sort, what I'm really doing is skimming, and waiting for the right name to leap out.

So for me it would seem that the key is not being good at making up names. For me the key is knowing the right name when I find it. Recognizing that little buzz of pleasure when the naming button is pushed inside my brain, and then running with it.

There are likely as many different ways of finding our characters' (or pets' or children's) names as there are writers (or namers of any sort). Everybody's buttons will be a little different.

So, how is it for you? What are your naming tips? How do you do it? It'll be fun to hear ... Funter Here ... Herr Gottfried Funter, impossibly tall, painfully thin, piano teacher to Lady Arnica Coldpack and desperately, hopelessly in love ...

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(Oh, and visit the website of the character named Slightly Jones ...)

9 comments:

dirtywhitecandy said...

My naming process is like yours. I feel around until the right one lights the spark. Sometimes I get name, then character - Richard Longborrow was a ponderous spiritualist with a penchant for dressing like a surgeon. Others evolve slowly.
I have TinyJones here who wants to say hi to Slightly Jones...

catdownunder said...

I think an extensive book of names is an essential reference tool for writers - so that you do not end up calling a 15thC girl Wendy as the name did not exist then.
I have yet to reach the heady heights of publication but I know that it is quite impossible to call a character something the character does not wish to be called! It sounds wrong. It feels wrong. I may go hunting in a book of names but, more often than not, the character tells me, "My name is..." and I just go to check that they really can appropriately be called that.

Stroppy Author said...

Yes, the name usually comes out of the air and the characteristics often follow from the name.

I have one character whose name I found carved into the wall of a 16th-century prison cell in Ferrara. He became a prisoner in 16-century Venice: urbane, witty, impossibly handsome, flirtatious and doomed. I hope the original Marcolo would have approved, and wasn't actually a fat old man with grey hair.

I had to change the name of a character at the last minute once. The book doesn't work for me with the new name, and I can't even remember it: I have to look it up every time I need to refer to it.

Pen said...

When I write short stories I often find I have to do a bit of name hunting for the right one and wait for it to zing.

But when it comes to my novels the character and name often come as a package deal, as you put it, right out of thin air.

It's all in the Muse magic. :D

Savita Kalhan said...

I skim lists of names until the right one jumps out, alhtough luckily the main characters usually arrive with their name and their traits. I can't wait to work on something different, something more fantastical where the scope for interesting names is far more exciting!

Nicola Morgan said...

Some years ago, when I was writing home learning books, my publisher passed me a letter from a reader in a country in Africa - I'm sorry but I can't remember which exactly - who was very angry with me because I'd used a name for a character which in her language was the name for ... um let's say a personal bodily area ...and she couldn't let her child read the book. I sympathised with her and so did my publisher, but I'm afraid we also had a bit of a chuckle. Thing is, I'd made up the country where the story was set, so I'd made up the name, and I don't speak that many languages. But, somehow, I know I should have checked. ;-(

adele said...

My children had a card game called something like WOODLAND SNAP and I still recall one of the characters called Mr. Cunningly Sligh. He may have been a fox. Very interesting post. I love the thought of Namely Tips and can just visualize him!

Joan Lennon said...

I love the idea that all over the world we're having these little blips of YES! Oh, and Tiny Jones, Slightly says Hi back.

Miriam Halahmy said...

Names appear in my head, settle down and then claim their place. I always feel that poetry is at the heart of the names I choose - rhythm, beat, pause.