Monthly Archives: October 2016

What’s In a Name? The Art of Naming Your Characters

A friend of mine asked me yesterday how I come up with the names for my characters. That’s a great question but not necessarily the easiest to answer.

For me, naming my characters is one of the most difficult parts of writing. And my process, such as it is, varies from project to project.

In my early days of writing, long before I ever wrote anything worth publishing, naming the characters was a rather straightforward process. I’d write down a list of potential names then randomly cross off the ones which brought back bad memories.

That girl used to pick on me during recess. He may have been one of the stupidest people I’ve ever met. She flirted with my boyfriend in college. 

Once I eliminated those bad apples from the list, then I’d pick my favorites and begin writing, assigning names to each of the characters in turn. The process was more akin to dealing a deck of cards than anything else. I didn’t say it was a good method, but it was at least a beginning.

Thankfully, I’ve evolved far beyond that.

Now when I write, I’ll try to get a deeper connection to the character I’m working with. Where are they from? When were they born? What is their personality like? Are they shy, outgoing, intelligent, scatterbrained, funny, or a bit nerdy? Do I want to convey a hidden meaning in their name that addresses a specific personality trait and if so, will that trait be overtly addressed during the unfolding of the story or will it be something that only I know?

Take Maggie Arnet and Carmen Peterson, the two main characters in The Face in the Mirror. For Maggie, I worked up a full Myers Briggs personality profile and printed off a complete list of the traits she would normally display. Additionally, I played with several different names to find the one that could easily work with the various nicknames she was given during the book. In the end, Maggie worked best for that character and seemed to set the mood that I was going for.

Carmen, on the other hand, presented a unique challenge. I had already finished about 2 1/2 chapters with the character using a completely different name. During that initial draft, she was named Allison which wasn’t working for her personality. I actually conducted an unofficial survey on Facebook and offered to name a character after the person who gave the best answer to the question. At the time, I was looking for the name of a minor character. A friend from high school, Carmen, won the Q&A and I immediately changed the name of the main character without a moments hesitation. The name fit like a glove.

For me, it’s important to find a name that will enhance the reader’s experience rather than draw away from it. What I mean by that is I don’t want the reader to be so focused on how odd the name is or how to pronounce the name and to lose sight of the story that’s developing. I want to build a complete person in the reader’s mind. I want there to be a continuity there.

Finding names now is so much easier than it was in years past. We have at our fingertips a wealth of resources. Facebook is a phenomenal source. What age group are you looking for? Young 20s? Great! Find anyone on your friends list in that age group and sift through their friends of the same age. You may not find the perfect name for a main character but you will find a host of names for supporting characters to use throughout your book. Looking for the most popular girl’s names from 1955? A quick Google search will yield a plethora of sources for you to delve into. That same search will also provide the meanings and origins of the names in question. I even used IMDB when choosing the names in Beneath the Mulberry Tree.

One word of caution, I’m very careful to avoid naming characters directly after people I know. Carmen was an exception and I told my friend well in advance that I would be doing that. I was also pretty far into the character development before that name switch took place. For me, I don’t want to name a character after someone I know very well and then begin to see that character as the person I know. I want each character to be his/her own unique self with their own individual idiosyncrasies.

And lastly, we all have a few names that are just our favorites to say for whatever reason. I personally love the name Rupert. I sounds so delightfully British and upper crust. I’m going to use that one somewhere but haven’t found the right place for it. I have a vague idea but alas nothing concrete as of yet.

Thanks for a great question. Hope this helps to shed a bit a light on my process.

Happy Reading!!

Boiled Peanuts

Peanuts boiling on the stove. Mmmmmm!

Peanuts boiling on the stove. Mmmmmm!

It’s been a busy week here. Family came in from out of town. Working. Writing. Typical day-to-day activities that keep us running from one end of sanity to the next.

I’m sure it’s the same way for everyone these days.

Fortunately, for me, I’ve had some time this afternoon to start a pot of peanuts to boil. Few things say fall quite like fresh, hot boiled peanuts.

Now, I know a lot of you think fall begins and ends with pumpkin spiced everything. Maybe that’s what you grew up with in your part of the country. But for me, football and boiled peanuts will always be the perfect symbol of autumn. It means cooler weather, the end of hot summer days, and the beginning of nights in front of a roaring fireplace.

It means home.

My dad planted peanuts in his garden every year. They were one of the last things to come in before the ground was tilled under in preparation for next year’s planting. I can remember vividly the fall Saturday’s I’d go down to the garden. He’ll dig up the plants with a pitchfork so as not to damage the kernels below. Then we’d wash them off. There were always several bucketfuls of peanuts to wash and prep.

Afterwards, we’d carry the buckets to a large black cauldron. Dad would build a fire. We’d add the peanuts (about one bucket per cooking, if memory serves correctly) to the cauldron, fill it up with water, add plenty of salt, and sit back while the concoction cooked.

I was in charge of making sure the water never boiled completely out so I always had the water hose handy. (Yep! I survived cooking over a fire and drinking from a water hose!) Dad had an old radio. We’d sit an listen to Larry Munson calling the Georgia game.

At the time, I’m sure I was much more excited about eating the boiled peanuts than anything else. After all, sitting around watching a pot to boil is not the most entertaining thing to do as a kid. Looking back though, I wish more than anything I could sit just one more time with my dad and listen to Larry call a Dawgs game.

The cauldron is long since gone. Dad passed away 14 years ago. The anniversary of his passing was this past Monday. Now, instead of an open fire, I simply put the pot on the stove and tend to other things. There’s no time anymore to sit around waiting for the water temperature to rise.

And yet, somehow, it’s fitting that this week finds me once again waiting on the simple pleasure of boiled peanuts. They’ll always remind me of my youth and the bygone years I miss so much.

Disney & Me!

My Dad with the Swiss Family Robinson Tree House in the background.

My Dad with the Swiss Family Robinson Tree House in the background.

In looking through the historical events that happened on this day, I came across a particularly interesting tidbit. Today in 1971, Disney World officially opened in Orlando, Florida.

Millions of people have enjoyed the rides and adventures of this famed theme park, but I have a much different connection to the attraction.

You see, my dad helped build it.

If you’ve ever gone to the Swiss Family Tree House or if you visited the previous attraction 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, you’ve seen his work. He supervised a team of lathers who were responsible for much of that construction. He created many of the rocky features still in existence today.  He helped bring the magic to life.

The ocean before water was added for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

The ocean before water was added for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Of course, he wasn’t the only one. There were thousands of construction workers who helped to complete that project in an amazingly short deadline.

But I’m particularly proud of my dad’s contribution. I can remember hearing him talk about the timelines for some of the projects there. On one occasion, he was running a team that worked about 16 hours a day for weeks straight. There was another team that decided to try to finish their project faster by working around the clock. Dad’s team finished ahead of schedule and quicker than the competing team. He looked at me and said, “Everybody has to rest sometime. You can’t work nonstop without burning yourself out.”

It was one of the many little gems of advice my dad taught me.

The Haunted Mansion

The Haunted Mansion

And Dad did take some time off. One January day in particular when my mom called his supervisor and said it was time to go to the hospital. I was about to be born.

I don’t remember the opening of Disney World. I was only 8 months old at the time. But I visited the park several times before we finally moved back to Georgia two years later.

My brother and sister, who are both older, have a much stronger recollection of our time in Florida. My memories are stories told by them and my mom.

By all accounts, I was an adventurous kid. There was the time I locked my mom out of the house and she had to crawl back in through the second story window. The time I hit my brother on the head with a hammer. The time I scared my sister and all her friends who were convinced there was a ghost in the house.

Good times!

I hope I’ve lived up to that adventurous reputation ever since.

Cinderella's Castle

Cinderella’s Castle

And while today may not mean anything to anyone else, to me it will always remind me of my dad, my family, and our special connection to Disney magic.

Now, I think it’s time for me to find a new adventure!

Happy Reading!