Monday, June 15, 2009

Names from the Sky

by Sophie Littlefield

Your first introduction to a character in a book is usually his or her name, so there's a lot of pressure on a writer to get it right.

Writers spend many frustrated hours trying to come up with monikers for every walk-on with a bit part. Last weekend I went to a signing where a well-known author confessed to taking names from household products and people walking past his door when inspiration refuses to strike.

Not me. I’m acquainted with plenty of varieties of writerly angst, but names are no problem for me. They fall from the sky, fully formed and insistent, whenever I conjure up a new character.

Since I often write about rural settings, and since the rural haunts of my past were populated by people with odd and creative nicknames and family names, I’m unrestrained by convention.

Sometimes names get a little stuck, like bits of flotsam lodged in a downed tree in a creek. A while back I named both a dog and an 8-year-old boy Bullet – one was in a novel and one was in a short story. I used Cass –the name of my across-the-street childhood tormentor – for both a male hop-head and, years later, a hot-blooded heroine.

The heroine of my mystery series, Stella Hardesty, was named after a dog. Our beloved canine Stella died of old age this year, before the first book was released, so it seems like a nice tribute.

When I wrote romance, my linguist friend Lynn (our very own LGC Smith) helped me understand why we are drawn to certain names and how to order consonants to invoke, for instance, alpha-style masculinity. I used these lessons to name my romance heroes Griff and Mac, among others.

Sadly, good technique is largely lost on me. Despite knowing the proper way to do many things, I always revert back to my old undisciplined ways, which are fueled by equal parts intuition and stubbornness - the plucked-from-the-ether, don’t-know-where-that-came-from method. As a result, in the last two years I’ve named men Goat, Roy Dean, Pitt, Ollie, Dimmit, Buster, and Earl…for gals I’ve got Silver, Gemma, Sabine, Novella, Shirlette, and Darla Jane.

(In case you are wondering whether I named my own children this way – why yes, I certainly did. However, my husband didn’t much care for the result, and vetoed both Hank “Buddy” Littlefield and Ruby June Littlefield….)


Juliet Blackwell said...

I always wanted to name a daughter Ruby!!! But then I went and had a boy instead....
I think men's names are tough. I always seem to want to use a "J" name: Jack, Josh, Jake, James...but there are only so many of those to go around. I resort to looking in a baby name book these days.

Adrienne Bell said...

ohh..thanks for the tip. I'm gonna have to pick Lynn's brain sometime. And by the way, LOVE the name Dimmit.

Sophie Littlefield said...

:) his full name is Dimmit Stanislaus...I loved that one!! :) He's an old sheriff, btw. But Adrienne, go ahead and feel free to name your next baby after him. Dimmit Stanislaus Miller - oh, it has *such* a ring!!

Karen Olson said...

I named my police reporter protagonist Annie Seymour after two of Henry VIII wives.

When I had to come up with my tattoo artist protag's name, I wanted something that was completely different to separate the two series. So I looked online at girl baby names and Irish surnames and came up with Brett Kavanaugh.

Dana Fredsti said...

Heh. Dimmmit caught my eye too, Adrienne!

Unknown said...

Oh--I got a little teary-eyed at the picture of Stella. We sure do miss that dog. :)

The only thing Sophie forgot to mention is she has a tendency to name all of her characters in a story with the same letter, Dimmit, Dave, Dean, Darla...and then we have to reign her in and make her change some of them and dang if she still doesn't come up with the most fascinating replacements. :)