Showing posts with label naming characters. Show all posts
Showing posts with label naming characters. Show all posts

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Spiky names and round names – Alex English

Shortly after writing last month's post on naming characters, I stumbled upon a fascinating psychological study looking into how people judge your personality based solely on the sound of your name. It all comes down to whether a name sounds 'round' or 'spiky'.

Kiki the cactus

If your name sounds 'round' you can be seen as adaptable, easy-going, friendly, sensitive and versatile, but also introverted. But if you have a spiky name people are more likely to assume you are aggressive, harsh, mean and sarcastic. On the bright side, you also might be considered to be more determined than somebody with a 'rounder' name.

So what makes a name round or spiky?

Ella the cat

Spiky names contain short, sharp sounds like K and T, technically known as 'voiceless stops', which are the sort of sounds you make by blocking airflow in your vocal cords. Round names have resonant  M or L sounds in them in them. So Kiki is 'spiky' but Ella is 'round'.

Unsurprisingly, the study found that there was no connection between peoples' names and their actual personalities, it’s just a case of names being perceived in a certain way. And in real life, we would thankfully have much more to go on than simply a name. However, this research did get me thinking about how I could apply it to naming characters.

My current heroine is called Echo, which puts her firmly in camp spiky with that hard K sound in the middle. Her gentler sidekick, Horace, is 'round' in both name and character. Chance? Or have I subconsciously named these characters according to the rules of sound?

I’m not sure, but as a spiky Alex I probably wouldn't tell you anyway!

How about you? Is your name rounded or spiky? How about those of your characters?

Alex English is a graduate of Bath Spa University's MA Writing for Young People. Her new middle-grade series SKY PIRATES launches in July 2020 with Simon & Schuster. 

Her picture books Yuck said the Yak, Pirates Don't Drive Diggers and Mine Mine Mine said the Porcupine are published by Maverick Arts Publishing. More of her picture books are forthcoming in 2021/2022.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Fantastic names and where to find them - Alex English

What's in a name? I find that names say so much about a person that I can’t get really see my characters until I've christened them. But fantasy characters deserve fantastic names. Once I have one, they spring to life before me.

I keep a little notebook of juicy words, most of which I've snaffled while reading poetry, and this comes in very handy when coming up with fantasy character surnames. However, I do also use generators when I'm in a pinch (or just fancy some fun). Here are a few methods that I've tried:

1 Look on the map

It was when I was listening to Philip Pullman‘s audiobook The Collectors that this idea came to me. Pullman had named two of his characters Horley and Grinstead. As a former resident of Reigate these names are very familiar – Horley and East Grinstead are both nearby towns in Surrey/Sussex.

There are plenty of peculiar British town names, but of course you could use any location. Snodsbury, Pucklechurch and Picklescott are all fabulous. Mudford Sock sounds like a ready-made character.

2 Construct a compound noun

These work particularly well in fantasy and this method is a favourite of mine for coming up with surnames. In my current book I have a Quickthorn, a Daggerwing (which also happens to be a butterfly variety, another great source) and a Milkweed, to name a few.

This generator gave me Gravelweather, Stepslinks and Skyflake. Some for the notebook!

3 Try the Roald Dahl method

For a more commonplace character, you might try using your Roald Dahl name – take your grandparent’s first name and add it to the first thing that catches your eye. 

I’m Arthur Cushion.

4 Consult your inner librarian

Your librarian name is the first name of the oldest person you know followed by a last name composed of the adjective that describes how you move through a room combined with the main ingredient from the last sandwich you ate. 

Mine is Sarah Stompavocado. Read the full twitter thread for lots of fabulous ideas!

5 Get real

On a more serious note, for those of us attempting to represent cultures other than our own, it's worth spending the time to get names right, rather than sticking to what we might think we know. A recent CLPE report found a disproportionate number of 'diverse' characters named Jasmine.  

I find this name generator useful for generating realistic contemporary names, and it can be adjusted by age group and country of name origin. If in doubt it's always best to ask for help from someone in that community. 

How do you come up with names for your fantastic characters?

Alex English is a graduate of Bath Spa University's MA Writing for Young People. Her new middle-grade series SKY PIRATES launches in July 2020 with Simon & Schuster. 

Her picture books Yuck said the Yak, Pirates Don't Drive Diggers and Mine Mine Mine said the Porcupine are published by Maverick Arts Publishing. More picture books are forthcoming in 2021/2022.

Monday, 17 October 2016

What's In a Name? - Quite a Lot When you are Writing a Children's Book - by Emma Barnes

What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet...

Names really shouldn't matter, should they? But actually, if you are writing a book they count for a lot. I doubt that I'm the only writer that only feels I've “got” a character when I've found the right name for them, and worries away until I do.

For Chloe and the Secret Princess Club, I didn't happen on the right name right away. When I was working on the book proposal, I thought of my main character as “Cleo”. Somehow this didn't feel quite right, and when my editor suggested “Chloe” instead, I immediately felt we'd got the right name for my character.

Chloe or Cleo?

Why? Well, my character has big dreams, but an ordinary life, and so Chloe made more sense for her than the rather exotic “Cleo”. (She does get to be a Cleo though – briefly and rather disastrously – towards the end of the book.)

Secondly, I have good associations with the name Chloe. One of my favourite picture books is Chloe and Maude by Sandra Boynton. Chloe and Maude is very much a story of friendship, and so is Chloe and the Secret Princess Club.

There was also a presenter called Chloe on Playschool – a TV show I loved as a child.

Playschool: Chloe with Brian, Humpty and Jemima

Thirdly, although I have good associations with “Chloe” I don't actually know any Chloes. On the whole, I don't like using the names of people I know well as my main characters. It gets in the way somehow.

Fourth and finally, the meaning of the name “Chloe” is green shoot – and this is perfect for my character, because first she is full of bright ideas, and second her mum is a keen gardener.

Aisha left, Eliza centre, Chloe right.  Illustrator: Monique Dong

Then there are Chloe's friends. Chloe's best friend is a British Muslim of Pakistani heritage and I found her name tricky to choose. I know the popular Muslim girls' names in my neighbourhood, but I don't really know the nuances of why particular names might be popular. After trying out several options, I chose Aisha, which is a classic name, but again not a name that I associate with anyone I know.

The third member of the club, Eliza, is Jewish. But most of the Jewish people I know don't choose especially Jewish names for their children. I chose Eliza because 1) it was a name I liked 2) I don't know anyone in real life by that name and 3) it's a bit out of the ordinary. Somehow it seemed the kind of name her parents - healthy-eating, slightly pushy professionals - might be expected to like.

Another important thing was that none of the names of the three main characters began with the same letter or sounded too similar or looked too much the same written down.

Although I didn't plan it that way, if you look at the letters of their first names – they spell ACE. 
And that seemed a nice thing too!

They weren't the only important characters in the book. Chloe has a twin brother, and he was Arthur from the start. This seemed right because Chloe's mum (like Chloe herself) is a bit of romantic, so would have loved the idea of naming her son after the famous King Arthur of Camelot.

But also, I suspect, I had another association in my head – this time with Arthur the Church Mouse, from Graham Oakley's wonderful Church Mice books. Arthur the mouse is practical, sensible and down-to-earth (and rather scathing of those people who aren't) and that's just how I saw my Arthur too!

Of course, like all children everywhere, my characters don't like their names. (No gratitude at all for the time I spent choosing them!) Part of their pleasure in their secret club is that they get to choose new secret names. Aisha becomes Araminta, Eliza is Elisabetta, while Chloe goes for Clarinda (that is until her class do a workshop on Ancient Egypt and she opts for Cleo instead).

What are your favourite character names in the books you've read?  How do you choose names for the characters you create?

Emma Barnes's book Chloe's Secret Princess Club is out now.
Find out more about Emma's books on her web-site.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

What's in a name? --- by Linda Strachan

NAMES - they are such personal things.

You may (or may not) like the name you were given by your parents, but of course it can be changed with greater or lesser degrees of difficulty.  Some names appear to place you in a certain group, either by nationality, geography, culture or even social status. Is that a good or bad thing, or merely interesting?

New parents sometimes have real problems when deciding on names for their children, and if you have ever been asked to sign books you quickly discover how many spellings there are for what would appear to be very ordinary names.    It is also strange that some names are almost too 'old' for  a new baby but the same name would seem fine in an adult.  Some names are fashionable for a short while trending when parents name their children after celebrities or characters on TV or in books.

Do you have a different name when you are writing?  It occurs to me that it might cause a problem when you start signing your books, do you sometimes use your own name by mistake, or worse what happens when you have been signing a lot of books with your pseudonym and soon afterwards you are asked to write a cheque or give a signature for something legal; is it difficult to remember who you are supposed to be?  It conjures up all kinds of possibilities for comedy, and perhaps more serious consequenses in this security conscious world.

How you spell your name can be an interesting conversation point or is it just an eternal irritation when no one gets it right?

I recently received an email from a young lady called Seonaid and when we met up I realised that I had no idea how to pronounce her name.  I only discovered later that it was pronounced  'Shona'. Thankfully it did not matter at the time as I never had to say her name, but although I love the way she spells it,I cannot help but wonder how it would feel to have to correct people all the time?

I admit that I am terrible at remembering names, but a greater problem happens when I get the wrong name for someone into my head and cannot shift it.  A few years ago I met a friend's husband and for some reason I was sure his name was Paul - he also looked like a Paul (to me - don't ask!)  But his name was not Paul, it was Bill.  The problem was he never looked like 'Bill' to me and still doesn't.

This happened again to me very recently when I had quickly read an email and mistook the name Philip with Peter and it didn't help that his surname also began with P.  And now the poor chap will, it appears, be forever Peter in my head. Yesterday I met him for the first time and he seemed, thankfully, not too upset with my mistake and occasional slip as I tried to remember NOT to call him Peter, until eventually it became a point of humour. Luckily he has a great sense of humour (Phew!)

Character names can create a difficulty, especially if you are wanting to make up a name, perhaps for a fantasy or other world story.  I am fascinated by the fact that some names just don't sit right with particular characters. Others I need to use for a while to get used to them, as if the character grows into it.  There are name generators, but that always feels like cheating!
But if too many characters start with the same first letter it can be confusing for the reader, but not nearly as confusing as it is for the writer, when you decide to change character names well into writing the book, or if an editor advises it.

Do you have a problem with names?  Do you have a pseudonym, and if so, why? 

How do you choose your character names?  Does what someone calls you really matter (as long as it is not insulting)?


Linda Strachan is the author of over 60 books for all ages from picture books to teenage novels and a writing handbook - Writing For Children.

Linda is currently Chair of the SOAiS - Society of Authors in Scotland 

Her latest YA novel is Don't Judge Me . 
She is Patron of Reading to Liberton High School, Edinburgh.

Her best selling series Hamish McHaggis is illustrated by Sally J. Collins who also illustrated Linda's retelling of Greyfriars Bobby.

blog:  Bookwords 

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Diverse Names by Keren David

We’d reached the Q&A part of the school visit, the bit where they usually ask how long it takes to write a book, whether you’d ever thought of making it into a film, and how much money you get paid.
Not this boy. ‘Miss!’ he said, ‘Will you put my name in your book?’
It was the third conversation I’d had about naming characters in a week. The first two were at the YAshot event, a day-long celebration of Young Adult fiction, organised by author Alexia Casale in association with Hillingdon libraries and featuring more than 70 YA and MG authors, a gloriously interesting day of debate and discussion, socialising and eating cake. 
My panel was asked how we went about naming characters, and we talked about finding the ‘right’ name and making sure one character’s name doesn’t clash with another, asking friends and Twitter for help, sometimes changing names at the end of the writing process.
I talked about a problem I’d had writing my latest book, This is Not a Love Story. One character, Theo, is a north London Jewish boy of 16 with many similar friends. My son is a nearly-16-year-old north London Jewish boy, who could easily be Theo's friend. So in naming Theo, his brothers and his friends I was careful to avoid the names of my son’s friends. Unfortunately he has many friends. Luckily, many of them are named Zachary. Or Zak. Or Zach. 
Names were also touched on during a panel on diversity.  Lucy Ivison, who co-wrote Lobsters, a brilliantly funny and authentic teen romance talked about how one of her teen beta readers advised against making the ‘best friend’ character Asian, even though he’d been based on a real friend who really was Asian. It would be ‘cringey’, like a ‘CBeebies show', said the girl.
I tend to think that there’s nothing wrong with the tiniest bit of cringiness, if it gives your book an authentic flavour and reflects a multicultural society. Giving characters diverse names is a way of doing that.  Why does a group of friends need to be called Jessica, Charlotte and Oliver? What changes if you call them Laban, Hakim and Ayaan? 
I'm at the end of writing a book with (for various reasons) little physical description of the characters, I’m pondering the effect of changing a few names. What if Becky becomes Destiny? What if Arthur turns into Abdul? How will readers imagine that character? What assumptions will they make about them?
‘Maybe,’ I said to the boy in the Q&A. ‘Give your name to the librarian and she’ll email me, and I’ll try and find you a place in my book.’  Three others in the group wanted to do the same. ‘Please Miss,’ one said. ‘I never see my name in books.’ 
So, I have a list of names to try and get into my  books of the future. And here they are: Ehtesham, Ali,Tasnim, Minha, Nivethaa.  

Monday, 30 March 2015

Positive and negative reasons for choosing character names – Lari Don

Yesterday, I asked my daughter to help me choose a name for a (fictional) white cat in a novel, and as we scribbled down various ideas, I realised that I choose character names for a variety of reasons, both positive and negative.

I’ve always loved selecting names that have resonance or meaning for me, in order to help me get to know new characters, though I usually keep that meaning hidden, rather than shouting it out loud in the story.

So that’s a positive reason to say YES to a potential name. And I have those positive reasons for every major character and quite a few minor ones in all my novels so far.

But there are lots of reasons to say NO to a potential name, many of which I said yesterday as my daughter listed possible names for that white cat.

I can’t use the name of a person I know well. (Or indeed a cat I know well, it turns out.)

I can’t use a name (in the case of this cat) that we’re ever likely to use as a name for a future family pet.

I can’t use a name that I’ve used for a character in one of my other books, even if that book is in a different series (though I’m fairly sure I’ve already slipped up and have a minor character in one novel with the same name as the main character in a picture book. Ooops.)

I can’t use a name, for a minor character, that I like so much I might want to use it for a major character in a future novel…

And of course, the one I imagine most writers struggle with: I can’t use names that look too similar on the page. Recently, I wanted to call a new character Roxanne, but I couldn’t because I already have an established character in that book called Rosalind, and two names starting with ‘Ro’ would be too confusing, for me if not for the readers!  So I'll have to return to the baby names books for that character...

All of which leaves me with a rather worrying question. I’ve got at least a dozen novel ideas that I’m keen to write over the next few years. But will I eventually run out of character names that work for all my positive and negative reasons? Will I run out of labels to stick on my characters before I run out of stories to put them in? (Perhaps I’ll have to start writing the sorts of books where I can invent words…)

Just in case you’re wondering, the cat is probably going to be called Poppet. Not a name I’m likely to use for a cat of my own, or indeed for a serious kickass heroine in another series.

Lari Don is the award-winning author of 22 books for all ages, including a teen thriller, fantasy novels for 8 – 12s, picture books, retellings of traditional tales and novellas for reluctant readers.
Lari’s website 
Lari’s own blog 
Lari on Twitter 
Lari on Facebook 
Lari on Tumblr

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

What's In A Name - Damian Harvey

Character names are so important and coming up with names is a task that I can love or loath with equal measure. It seems that some characters arrive ready named mind whereas others are far more problematic, and I just can't seem to settle into the writing until I've got the right name.

Working in schools with children on their creative writing shows that they too have difficulties with the naming process, though they are often more than happy to settle with the first thing that comes into their heads. You can almost guarantee that the chosen name will be Bob. I try to get them to come up with something different, a bit more unusual perhaps... think about this character and what he/she/it is like. If there a better name than Bob? I just know that the next suggestion is going to be Bobby - but we don't leave it there.

I feel that some names have been used up now and I would find it difficult to have a character called Harry in either a picture book (Harry and The Dinosaurs) or in a longer book (Harry Potter).

In a series of books I wrote about robots I thought it would be good to give a few of the robot characters machine, tool or industrial sounding names so I had Crank, Ratchet, Buzzsaw,  Pylon, Sparks. Ratchet had to be changed at the last minute as the name matched that of the lead character in the animated movie, Robots. I couldn't think of anything at first but the title of a song came to my rescue and I called him Al. When I came to create a strong female robot character I wanted a name that sounded strong, feminine and futuristic. I thought I was being quite clever calling her Avatar but did didn't feel quite so clever when a film of that name was released.

A series of books about a family living in the Ice Age needed, I felt, a title that was Flintstone like so I had fun mixing and matching words until I came up with The Mudcrusts. Whereas the Roborunners characters had names linked to machines and tools etc I wanted something more primitive for the Mudcrusts. Some of the characters were named after personal characteristics - Lowbrow Mudcrust has a prominent brow and Chief Hawknose predictably has a large hawk-like nose. Other characters had names that were linked closer to nature - two sisters are named Flora and Fauna and Lowbrow's wimpy younger son is named Bogweed.

In school I try and encourage children to create names for characters that they might not normally think of as being names. It's a fun thing to do, especially when you combine everyday words, and can result in some very interesting possibilities for characters - sometimes we find that a name comes before a character but lends itself to visualising what sort of character it is. In a book I'm working on at the moment I have a nasty little piece of work known as Simian Scrape - a bully of a boy who bares more than a passing resemblance to a monkey. The most problematic character name for this book was for the evil villain - a mad scientist like character called Melvin. I knew Melvin needed to have a more sinister name but I just couldn't quite get it right, and neither, it seemed could the character himself so I have a scene in which the character devises struggles to come up with a new name for himself, though much to his eternal disgust, Mother still insists on calling him Melvin.

As a child I remember complaining to my own mother at her choice of name for me. Why on earth did she have to call me Damian - especially with all the movies about the demon child of the same name that seemed to hound me throughout my school life. "It could have been worse," she told me. "We were going to call you Warren but changed our minds when my mum said you would get called Bunny."

I think I'll settle with my own name after all and just have fun creating more interesting names for my fictional characters.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Dire Doings at Stringhalt Hall - Joan Lennon

The Setting: A dark and stormy night batters about the towers of Stringhalt Hall. Down in the stables a lone light flickers briefly. Then, there is a sudden kerfuffle, and a stable boy is sent scurrying for the master. 

The Crime: Lord Stringhalt's prize racehorse, Run Fast, by Any Route, out of Harm's Way, is found to be suffering from ... something.  Something caused by someone staying at the Hall.  But who? 

The Suspects/House Guests: 1. The Right Reverend Fistulous Withers, who strongly disapproves of horse racing and associated gambling. 
2. Lord Algernon Bastard-Strangles (of the Suffolk Bastard-Strangles). He is rumoured to be head over hocks in debt. 
3. The Honourable Pollyanna (known to her friends as Poll) Evil, Lord Stringhalt's fiancee, of whom it has been said that "she is no better than she should be." 
4. Messieurs Mallenders and Sallenders, solicitors from a long-established legal firm, down from London, but for pleasure? Or business? 

The Sleuth:  Detective Superintendent Petunia Heaves happens, fortuitously, to also be a guest.

The Big Accusation Scene:  Everyone is gathered in the stable, looking shifty.  The sleuth examines Run Fast for clues and then ...

Who Done It?:  ... without a word, Detective Superintendent Heaves goes to the tack room, returns, and hands Lord Stringhalt a small pot of something pungent.  An ointment made of pig oil and sulphur.  

Lord Stinghalt takes a sniff and gasps, "Does this mean Run Fast will be able to run fast after all?  And does this also mean that ... "  He turns and points a horrified finger at the gathered guests.

Heaves nods.  "That's right," she says. "The lawyers done it."

How did she know?

(A Clue: The suspects' - indeed, everyone's - names in this story have a connection ...)

(The Point:  Started as a post on naming characters and got, er, away from me a little.)

Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.

With grateful acknowledgement to Karen Bush.