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April 3, 2009

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t have children, and therefore I’ve never had the pleasure of sifting through thousands of baby names before finally deciding on the perfect one. Actually, from what I’ve seen, its less a pleasure than a pain in the ass.

The top three shelves of my desk are reserved for the reference materials I use most frequently in my writing: dictionary, thesaurus, almanac, key maps, various religious texts—you get the idea. Among them are three baby-naming books.

Why would a woman with no children need baby-naming books? Oh, yeah, that’s right, she’s a writer.

I’m one of those people who hates to get involved in a book where all of the characters are named Mary or John or Lisa or Kevin. I enjoy studying the origins of names and creating unique monikers that represent my characters’ heritages.

I’ve always wanted to use the name Sebastian in a book, for example, and there will forever remain a soft spot in my heart for Mercutio.

So the other day, I’m trying to think of a name for a new character I’ve decided to create, and I’m sitting at my desk with my glasses on crooked and a jumbo cup of coffee next to my right hand. My husband comes into the office to ask whether or not we remembered to buy light bulbs last time we went to H.E.B., and his eyes get all big when he sees the book I’m rifling through.

“This again?” he asks in that tentative voice men often use when they are disappointed or exasperated, yet don’t want their wives to know how they truly feel.

I look up from the book and smile. “Character,” I say. “Not baby.”

Back in the olden days (like three years ago) I wanted desperately to have children, and we went ’round and ’round the issue for what seemed like forever. At one time or another each of us has been on both sides of the table, and now that we’re finally on the same page I can understand his trepidation.

I don’t have to get pregnant or fill out adoption applications to understand, at least in part, the agony experienced when naming another human being. Sure, characters are fictional, but you know that once you pick out that name, you’ll say it thousands of times in your head while working—and probably even when you’re not.

What process do other writers use for choosing names for characters? Is it best to go with whatever pops in your head, or is research required?

5 Comments leave one →
  1. April 3, 2009 1:59 pm

    Oy, I actually blogged about this awhile back myself. I really struggle to find just the right names for my characters, and they often change as I go, generally several times. I lost my baby name book, so now I go to the internet and look at baby name sites. They’re not all the same, and seem limited. I have a particularly hard time with women’s names. I like something unique but not outlandish, and I don’t like “weak” sounding names. I’d have a hard time taking anyone named “Bitsy” seriously. I think many women’s names are juvenile-sounding, as if giving them silly names will keep them subservient. So lots and lots of research, and trying on for size happens before I settle on a name.

    Oh well, it’s my neurosis, get your own 😉

  2. Sam Tamlyn permalink*
    April 3, 2009 8:12 pm

    I also have a hard time with the cheerleader-like names: Brandy, Tiffany, and so on. But I know what you mean about going too outlandish; I’m partial to names that can go either way (male or female) since I grew up as “Sam”. Only my Dad calls me Samantha anymore.

  3. April 3, 2009 9:35 pm

    Aw, Samantha’s a good name. There’s no diminutive “-ie” sounding ending, like Amy, or Cindy, Stacey, Cathy, Laurie, etc. Men’s names always sound so solid: Ben, Mike, Rob, Erik, Steve, and so on. Men drop the “ie” or “y” as soon as they’re over the age of ten. There are some exceptions of course, like Benny Goodman, Stevie Ray Vaughn. Maybe my prejudice stems from the fact that none of the women in my family have names that end with the “ie/y” sound.

  4. December 10, 2009 4:20 pm

    I thought I would leave my first comment, Thank you and I will want to read more from you.


  1. christening « Sam Tamlyn

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