Monday, February 1, 2010

On the naming of names

I hate naming things. Kids, characters, anything.

I drove people, mostly my husband, nuts when I had to come up with names for our four kids. They had to be a certain number of syllables, had to be from certain groups of names I had already chosen, had to flow with the sound of our last name, blah, blah, blah.

I'm happy with how it all turned out, but I find that my hate on of naming continues. I hate to name characters and love the use of pronouns.

He/She works for me. I've been told it can get hella confusing for readers though. So I'll ask you. How do you come up with names for your characters? Or titles for that matter? Cuz I suck at titles.

And having thusly ranted and left you questions to consider, I'll leave you with a small snippet of something.
She’s been here a solar week, stalking her prey, before she finally decides on the killing ground. She knows the when, the how, and now the where.

She also knows the why; she just doesn’t care.


She’s trailed him four times now, marked his route. He’s always in early and out late; straight shot, no stops. And he always uses the level risers to enter and exit the skyway that connects the spaceport with the high-rise tower that houses his small, low-level government minister’s office.


At this point of convergence in time and space, she times it perfectly.

She knows the lower levels are empty, and smiles up at the wizened little man hurrying down as she climbs.

The landing is narrow where they meet, and she nods as he angles slightly to give her room enough to pass. She steps and pivots as her right hand pulls up her pistol and fires into the back of the little man’s head.

The suppressor is more than worth its cost. There isn’t a sound except the snick of the trigger as the man’s thin hair puffs out in a splash of pale pink and crimson.

She fires a second shot as the body begins to fall and follows it down; fires three more times into the head as legs and arms splay on the ground.


Stepping over and away from the body, she heads back down the level risers and out into the quiet of a dark, empty street.

In less than an hour the planet’s twin suns will rise and she will be gone.


  1. Well, there are instances - like this snippet - where names are not necessary. More, the lack of a name for the character heightens the tension of the situation, brings the focus in closer.
    (And what a welcome re-read, at that! :) )

    Finding names can be an ordeal, especially when you choose a medium that veers off from the here and now. In those cases a random name generator can be helpful: not necessarily to find an actual name for you, but to present you with some...well, *sounds* that might turn into an idea for a name.

    Is that cheating? Ok, guilty! :)
    (but titles are way more troublesome, agreed!)

  2. Wow, who are you mad at? One bullet in the back of the head usually does the trick but five? Although I liked it. At least she knew how to kill him without witnesses. I hate stupid assassins.

    To get my names I usually go to baby names dot com or some such, pull up a year and go for it. For last names I use the phone book, pick a random page, close my eyes and wah-lah. Sometimes I flip through my high school yearbook if I need an ethnic name.

    As for titles, that's a little harder. I try to only use one word. It gets a little tricky though in my genre because most have been used already: Beloved, Betrayed, Defiant, Masquerade, and then of course when you add Duke to it, well, you get the idea.

  3. So, one day I was writing a sequel to SJ's story when we stumbled across a problem... I wanted to name the kids, and she didn't.

    Or rather, a little more precisely~ I wanted the kids in the story to have names, and she didn't, but because I suck at naming characters, she was left with the job.

    Things got twisted up all knotty and waddy, but in the end the kids all had names. Even the unborn ones. They each had the correct number of fathers (don't ask), step siblings, and adults to identify with; they all had the correct number of syallables, had similar origins, marched in order: boy, girl, boy, girl.

    You see.

    Thus is life writing with SJ.

    Let's face it: I can't name characters to save my life--- even my pets (and long lost dolls of my youth) suffer from my lack of imagination. But I'm okay with titles. (Nods to self.) Titles, I can do.

    ttfn, susan

  4. Hee!

    You're right, Nym, an ordeal is exactly the way to describe it. And any help we may get along the way isn't cheating, it's creative. :)

    I'm with you on the stupid assassins thing, PW. I've gone to the baby name sites and flipped through National Geographic for names, but never a phone book. That's a good idea. :)

    Thus is life writing with SJ.

    Hee! For some reason that line just cracked me up. It's a good thing you still love me in spite of everything. :)

  5. You can blame the confusion on me--I am easily confused.

    Seriously, though, in the snippet it works fine. For me, it's once you get multiple characters involved that it gets confusing. More than that, though, I also find it distracting. Maybe I'm just weird.

    As for naming can do it!

  6. No weirder than me who apparently has never met a pronoun I didn't like. :) And I'm the one that's easily confused.

    Between the flipping POVs and pronouns, I'm grateful you keep reading the stuff I send you.

  7. I'm trying to remember what you told me once about naming... something about why name 'em if you're just gonna kill 'em anyway? ;)

    And yeah, that's a nice assassination. But like PW said, that's a lot of shots and it makes the reader wonder what the guy did to deserve execution with extreme prejudice.

    As for the necessary naming currently...I made a rather extensive list when we were getting our border collie pup and kept it in a notebook. I pulled some names recently from there. And I used a site that was popular names for a particular year, as well as one that was all Irish names. But one thing I RARELY do is use the same name as a student I've had, even if it's a common one; too much real-life association.

    Seriously, though, there is something sort of ... universal ... about the unnamed character. It makes him/her less defined, and perhaps easier for the reader to identify or sympathize with as there is no name with a certain connotation attached. There's less of the sense of "other."

  8. Hee! I'll have to go back and decrease the bullets. :)

    I like the idea of keeping the names in a notebook except my notebook would probably look like the phone book. :)

    And I agree with you about the unnamed character thing. I like that a lot, so I'm glad you think I got that.

  9. For me, the name of a character adds a facet to her personality that reaches the reader on a subconscious level. I spend a great deal of time naming my characters, and I like each name to "mean" something to me. Sometimes I choose names that describe directly, othertimes I choose names that describe by contradiction. For instance, I like a regal name for someone who defends her rightful claim to something in the world. Or, I think its fun to name an athiest something like 'Christian.'

    Finding my titles is even easier for me. I don't think about it, and (almost) every time the title just comes to me. Boom, there it is. It's one of the magical aspects of writing that astounds and invigorates me!

  10. I think you're right about names meaning something special and I do spend a lot of time naming not only my kids but my characters, when I name them. :)

    I love your idea about names and contradiction. I may have to consider that approach. :)

    I ususally just co-opt a song title or some lyric for a title, but it's cool to hear that it's something that comes easily to you. I'm kind of envious about that. :)

    And it's great when there's something like that that just puts the fun back into writing.