Names are such funny things and in a lot of magical systems, they hold a lot of power. When I start a draft, I need to have a placeholder name, usually, because I feel funny just calling a character Him or Her – it gets confusing when I start to meet more Hims and Hers in the story. So, I need a label. Sometimes, the character grows into the label, sometimes I stumble into the new perfect name for the character, and sometimes I have to spend a lot of time researching the name. A name has power, and I don’t want to do the wrong thing. For example, one of the villains in my earlier drafts started out with the name of George Brett. It was serviceable. George was a solid, good-ol’-boy name, and I thought that Brett had that air of sophistication to it. DeBrett’s is a famous registry of famous British people. But I did have a little niggle, and I think it was Nancy who confirmed my niggle – she said very cautiously something like, “Wasn’t George Brett a baseball player in the 70s?” So he was. George Brett morphed into George Diaz. And it was a better name. Mr. Diaz is a first generation American, fighting for his family and for his town. His wife, Janine Evans Diaz, still has that “oldest family in town” aristocracy about her, and I love the dynamic that the two of them have between them now. George Brett was just cookie-cutter town aristocracy; George Diaz offers a different experience from his wife. When choosing final names, there are at least seven things to remember. 1. What does the name actually mean? Google has a lot of baby book sites that will help you find out the etymology of the name. 2. What historical baggage does the name carry? Who had it before? 3. What current popular baggage does it carry? 4. How does the name sound in your head? Is it full of explosive sounds, like Kristy Kracker? Or is very smooth and sleek, like Sylvia Pathfinder? How does that match the character? Is it an unusual name like Szathmary or Xhosa? And if it is, how does your reader know how to pronounce it? How soon do you tell your reader? 5. How does the name look? Is it easy to read? The name Ilona always slows me down. The ‘i’ and the ‘l’ are very similar. 6. How does the name harmonize with other names in the story? Do you have a Jack and Jill? Or a Pinkerton and a Clinkerton? Is the juxtaposition producing the effect you desire? You may quite like two names that share a consonant. I’m pretty fond of Perz and Hadiz – they are the same in the end, which is also where my story is going. Or you may be going for a comic effect, like Tweedledee and Tweedledum – two names from nursery rhyme fame that Lewis Carrol liked. They should be different, but not too different (unless that’s what you are going for). I think Crash and Tixie go well together. But Crash and Euphonia? Hmmm. 7. Are the names in the book as a whole distinguishable from one another? Jenny Crusie has often talked about not starting two names with the same letter. Speedreaders get an important cue from the first letter of the name, and can stumble when they’ve got to deal with a Viola and a Vance. Also, look at the name profile in general. Is it one tall letter, one short letter, and some tall letters again? For example, Milka and Neklo don’t sound very much alike, but their shapes are very similar. The names in my current story are starting to morph. My heroine is mild-mannered Bunny Blavatsky, and I’m still quite happy with that. Although, I’m very tempted to turn her into a Zaida Something . . . Zaida Ben-Yusuf was an early woman photographer with quite a globe-trotting life. The hero, Michael James, may get a real last name. And his callow young son, Freddie, will probably turn into a Jimmy to show how he’s cast in his father’s mold, but he isn’t quite the man his father is . . . yet.
The name I like best is my antagonist’s. She’s Katrina Van Texel, or Kitty. Since she’s a were-cheetah, this is somehow fitting, and when Bunny grows teeth, it should be quite a battle. Kitty is of Dutch descent, and the name is the same as what some scholars think is the real name of Katrina Van Tassel, the spoiled young woman from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I’m not quite sure what the connection is there . . . but it does something for my Girls, so it’ll stay in. Unless something better comes along (-:. How about you? What’s your favorite name in literature or your own work, and why does it ring your bell?