30 days of writing, day 3

Master post.

3. How do you come up with names, for characters (and for places if you’re writing about fictional places)?

It’s a combination of research and serendipity.

For people, I own a shelf-full of books on names. I’ve got three or four just general baby name books, two or three of names divided by origins, one just of Irish names and their meanings, and three additions of Beyond Jennifer and Jason and two of their spin-offs, Beyond Shannon and Sean and Beyond Charles and Diana. These last are most helpful for when I want characterization in a word: to use an example from my own characters, Dune would be a very different character if his name were William, and Jamie would not be the same if he went by Jimmy.

I get last names mostly from the Census: I like names in the top 5000, familiar but not too common. They also come from the end credits of shows I’m watching quite a bit, too. Or I’ll hear one I like and write it down for later use.

I also bookmark any interesting sites about names I find in delicious, and sometimes I even remember to go back and look at them.

Place names are tougher. You want it to be short and unique and memorable, but also make sense. You wouldn’t name a town in Massachusetts San Mateo, for instance, any more than you’d name a place in Texas Mattapoisett. Again, research is your friend, as are lists.

OMG, do I ever make lists. If a character doesn’t name himself right away, I’ll make lists of likely-sounding names and try them out (often in conjunction with the names I’m considering for the love interest, so see how they sound together) and go with the one(s) that are most pleasing to my ear and feel most suitable for the character(s).

For the story I’m working on now, I wanted a restaurant name that showed a character’s French origins. I originally named it Le Chat Noir, but realized it wasn’t the feel I wanted for the place. In doing more research about where I wanted her to be from, I learned the valley her hometown is in is called Luberon, and I thought, Ooo. So now the restaurant is called Luberon.

Or for another project, I wanted a name for a coffee shop: the character’s parents opened it, so I figured it should be named after one of them. I’d already named the mother Lily, so I went looking for variations of lilies so it wouldn’t just be “Lily’s.” It turns out there’s a kind of wild lily called the Queen’s Cup, which grows mostly in the Pacific Northwest. So not only did Lily give me the coffee shop name (and decor: I can now imagine the stylized, almost art deco queen’s cup lilies that are the shop’s logo and decorations), but gave me the location of the story as well.

And sometimes I don’t know why I named anything a certain word, it just sounded right, like the club Zebra in Something Beautiful; or there’s a connotation I want to evoke, like a character in an upcoming story whose name is Jude after the patron saint of lost causes.

Most of the names in The King’s Diamond are Tibetan, since I wanted them to feel utterly unfamiliar but didn’t want to resort to alien-esque made-up names like Xxxort. The royal names, however, are pretty much made up, but follow an Egyptian pattern: they all end in the name of their main god, Azhur, with the cognate -ep to mean “of” and then a prefix referring to a piece of armor. I’d have to find my notes again but I think Damalepazhur means “shield of Azhur,” and his brothers and father are named things like “breastplate of”, “spear of”, “helmet of”, etc.

(Sometimes making it up completely is a lot of fun.)

Mirrored from Jenna Jones.com.

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