Monday, August 15, 2011

Twyla, Wyla, or Twy, Part Two of Naming Your Characters.

By Janet Fogg

Last week I commented on the "confusing because of similarity," or tongue-twisting names sometimes encountered in science fiction and fantasy novels, including Footfall’s Chintithpit-mang and Harry Potter’s Gregorovitch versus Grindelwald.

I also mentioned Connie Willis’ method to minimize character-name confusion. She makes a list of the alphabet and when she names a character the first letter of that name is crossed off the list and not used again. You won't find Violet and Viola in one of her books unless similar names are important for moving the story forward.

This week I hope you’ll share your tricks in naming characters. Do you use “working” names until your world-building is complete and you're saturated with the personalities of your characters? Or do you change a name mid-way when it just seems obvious that Deborah should be Twyla?

Speaking of Twyla, one approach when seeking an unusual name is to drop a letter from a “more common” name. Not that Twyla is terribly common, but I’ve always been fond of it.

Twyla might become Twy, Wyla, or possibly Yla.

Or replace one letter or juggle the syllables.

Twyla could then be Twyle. Maybe. Twela? Nah. Tweela? Perhaps. Latwy? Hmm… Keep trying.

In Footfall, the “mang” in Chintithpit-mang represents a family within the alien culture, which assists in identifying relationships. Very helpful.

Another idea, regardless of the genre you write, is to search through the baby name lists of various cultures. If you’re using Connie’s trick then that’s even easier. Just scan through the “Cs” until you find a name that tickles your naming fancy.

I’ve occasionally changed the name of a character after completing a manuscript draft, but usually know early on what their name is. How about you? How do you select or craft names for your characters?


Marlena Cassidy said...

I use the website to poke around names. It's really helpful because it has a random name generator that you can plug info in, like what culture you want, if it's masculine or feminine, and how many names you want shown (you can have up to four). Then I just refresh until I find a name that sounds interesting and fits the character.

I almost never change a character's name. Once it's chosen, it becomes the character's forever.

Margaret Yang said...

I'm very fond of the book BEYOND JENNIFER AND JASON, it doesn't just list baby names, it puts them into categories. So, if you're looking for a name from the 1950's, or a "sexy" name for your hero, it's all here.

Giles Hash said...

My first book (many years ago, now discarded to the "great learning experience" pile) contained many pseudo-common names and many fantasy/made-up names. Since then, I've stuck to names I can find on

I had someone comment on my query letter, though, who recommended that I change the name of my character (after I'd finished ALL revisions) because names that end with "s" are confusing for proper punctuation. I'm not a master of the English language, but I always keep a handy grammar/punctuation guide at hand so that the names, which are integral to my stories, can remain in place with easy-to-understand punctuation.

And let's be honest, a halt-dragon dragon slayer named Chris Drake? Anything else would seem fake (in my opinion).

Terry Wright said...

It's tough to rename a character after you've written about him or her for years. It's like renaming your mother. Best thing to do is plan ahead.

Janet Fogg said...

Marlena and Giles, I've never visited the website - thank you for sharing that info!

And I like the description of your reference book, Margaret. I'm going to have to look at that.

Oh, and good suggestion, Giles, as far as punctuation. And yes, we should always be honest! LOL

I agree Terry, and have rarely renamed a character.

Thanks for stopping by!

Lester D. Crawford said...

One method I use to create alien names is to smash together a bunch of random characters on the keyboard then look for strings that make something pronounceable and interesting. Then, I search the Internet for the word, and low and behold, I find it. I am amazed at how often I can create a random string of letters and find it already in use on the Internet.

Some of my made up names will become popular baby names after my book series is published.

Angela Parson Myers said...

My main characters usually walk to me and say, "Hi, my name is ____." If I'm ever told I have to change one in order to be published, I'll probably have to pass up being published. Minor characters are another matter. I usually find their names in a baby name book or by opening the phone book to a random page. Still, it seems like they choose names that somehow fit--Bobbie being a bit of a tomboy and Derrick very dangerous.

Karen Emanuelson said...

Since my current project is a re-telling of Beowulf & I'm a Beowulf scholar, I actually struggled with names. Do I use the Anglo-Saxon (Old English) names in the epic poem or the proper Old Norse/Old Swedish/Old Norwegian name that is appropriate for early 6th century Scandinavia? I decided that all the characters named in the saga would retain the Anglo-Saxon versions of their names, but all the characters I have introduced into the story have period & nationality appropriate names. So, Old Swedish/Old Norwegian/Old Norse and some Celtic names for my Irish thralls.

Anonymous said...

Don't know how, but my characters often come to me already named. Some names just fit certain types or certain looks and I go with those names. I sometimes have to change them, but they usually like what I name them. I have it somewhat easier though, I write mainstream novels and the sci-fi and supernatural thrillers (screenplays) are written with very clever collaborators, like you Janet, who are awesome with the stranger names. Karen Lin

Shannon said...

My editor asked me to change several names in my novel. I got to keep my protag and villain but the love interest changed as did a sidekick and another minor character. But I sold a book so changing a few names wasn't a big deal to me. I think I got lucky naming my kids, book characters can change.