Friday, December 16, 2011

What's In A Name?

It's my pleasure to introduce Katherine Grey at Tattered Pages today, who brings with us a great post about naming characters. Take it away, Katherine!

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  A college professor once explained this line from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as meaning names do not matter.  The line was spoken by Juliet in reference to the Montague name as a way to imply that his name meant nothing or was of no importance.  I’m not sure I agree with my former professor when it comes to the names of characters.

For me, main characters, and definitely in the case of the hero and heroine, have to have names that fit.  The names define them in a manner of speaking.  For example, an alpha hero just doesn’t seem very alpha if his first name is Bernie.  (No offense to any Bernies out there.)

At times a character will come to me with their name already intact.  This was the case of the heroine in my current work in progress (WIP).  She came to me fully formed with her back story, her conflict, and most importantly (to me) her name – Olivia St. Germaine.  Other times, characters will come with everything but their name and I give them one.  Some times as soon as I say it aloud, it seems to fit and the character will smile at me and nod in agreement.  Then there are the times when the character will back away, making the sign of the cross with their fingers at the sound of the name I’ve given them.

There are times where the name I’ve given them just doesn’t fit after I’ve started writing about them and I struggle to keep the name I gave them.  Some characters tell me, “Stop calling me that, damn it.  My name is…” which makes things easier.  And then some characters go through a process of different names with their names changing the way a teenager changes clothes until we both get tired or the name finally seems to fit.

A secondary character in my current WIP started out as John.  Four name changes later, I learned his name is David.  The “Find and Replace” feature in my word processing program got a work out as I kept having to find and replace his old name with each successive new one.  Finally David is happy and has become much easier to write.

So Mr. Shakespeare, with all due respect, I have to say, “A rose by any other name may still be a rose,” (I’m paraphrasing here, badly) but a character by any other name can be a completely different person.

Check out Katherine Grey's latest release IMPETUOUS, available now at The Wild Rose Press, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble!

Mateo de Montayas, an impoverished Spanish count, comes to England to recover a stolen family heirloom and to satisfy his hunger for revenge against the man who destroyed his family. Arriving in London, he learns his hated enemy died three years before but has left behind a daughter. What better way to retrieve the heirloom and exact revenge than to use her to his advantage?
Teresa Darlington will do anything to keep scandal away from her frail mother and prove her father wasn't a thief, even risk her reputation in a race to find the missing heirloom before the Count does. But she didn't count on falling in love with the man determined to ruin her family. Can she find the heirloom before he does and protect her family, or will her heart lead her in a different direction?

Teresa cast a furtive glance around the darkened garden. Now that it was time to put her
plan into action, she wished she were any place but here. Had she finally allowed her impulsive nature get her into something she couldn’t get out of? 

Determined to silence the fears clamoring within her, Teresa forced herself to go over all
Freddie had taught her in the last week. She checked her pocket for the stub of candle she
grabbed earlier. 

With one last prayer, she hoisted herself up and through the window. A surge of adrenaline flowed through her as she realized she was in one of the two libraries the Marquess of Kingsbury kept well maintained. Elated that her memory had served her correctly, she wandered around the room, her hand trailing over the many bookshelves. If she could remember the layout of each townhouse on her list as well as she did this one, getting in and out of the houses would be one less worry.

Her hand on the doorknob, she took one last look at the window. Once she left this room, escaping without detection became even more dangerous. The handle turned beneath her hand. Stifling a startled cry, she backed away from the door. Hide! her terrified mind screamed. She raced toward the window.

As freedom loomed in front of her, a hand clamped around her arm and dragged her back.
“What the hell are you doing here?”

Her body went limp with relief as Montayas’ deep tones filled the room. Yanking her arm free
with a nonchalance she didn’t feel, she moved closer to the window. “I’m trying to protect my father’s reputation just as you are here trying to ruin it.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Don’t play the fool with me. I know you’re searching for the Pequena. How can you threaten to
expose my father as a thief when your property isn’t even in his family’s possession?”

Montayas glanced toward the door. “Be quiet.”

“You’ll not silence me. I want the answers I should have demanded when you first voiced your
ludicrous accusations.”

He clamped his hand over her mouth.  “Someone’s coming,” he whispered, pulling her into
the shadows of the heavy brocade curtains. He glanced out the window and then back at the door.

Voices. Teresa heard them now. Still indistinct but louder.

Montayas gave her a warning look then removed his hand from her lips and positioned her in front of the window.

She struggled against his grasp. “What are you doing?” she whispered.

With one quick shove, he pushed her through the opening.

Barely suppressing a scream, Teresa fell through the air and landed on her knees with a soft
thud. The short fall stole her breath. Thankfully, the thick grass of the formal garden had acted as a cushion.

Seconds later, the count joined her on the lawn. He grabbed her hand and ran toward a small copse of trees. In the leafy shadows, he turned to face her. “Are you trying to get me killed?”

“Me?” she shrieked. “I didn’t just push you out a window.”


Sarah Grimm said...

Great post, Katherine! I know just what you mean about names not always fitting. My hero in my latest release was Joe when I first wrote the book - it wasn't until edits that he finally clued me in to his real name. LOL

Impetuous is on my TBR list and I'm hoping that over the Holidays I can finally shorten that list by purchasing and reading lots and lots of books!

Katherine said...

Hi Sarah, Glad you liked the post. Isn't it strange how the characters let us know what their names are rather than us just choosing names for them?

I'm hoping to shorten my TBR list too after the holidays. I haven't finished reading a book since before Thanksgiving.

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

I hate reading books where I'm not sure how to pronounce a name. Everytime I come to it, my mind stumbles and fumbles slowing the flow of my reading and diminishing my enjoyment of the story. The choice of names is very important. Many names come with pre-concieved character traits. Would we enjoy a book with Adolf as the hero or would out minds think "Hitler." Some names also carry a sensual connotation. Great post and excerpt.

AJ Nuest said...

I'm soooo in touch with this post, Katherine. Lately, I've been trolling name sites on the internet, which has really helped. This has opened my eyes to a whole slew of names I would have otherwise never considered. Now, I just have to remember not to give everyone a name that starts with the same letter. Can't tell you the times I've gone back to read a book I started, just to find that all the character's names start with a n "M" or a "T". Not good.

I'm glad you're here with me today! I'm out for a bit, Christmas shopping with the DH, but I'll be back later to check in! Happy Holidays everyone!

Katherine said...

I agree with you, Vonnie. I don't think I could ever see an Adolf as a heroic character.

If I come across a character name that I can't figure out how to pronounce, I usually will rename him/her in my head. I once read a historical romance with a Welsh hero that I didn't have a hope of knowing how to pronounce his name. Since it began with a D and ended with a D. I read it as "David" every time his name popped up. I do tend to avoid books with difficult character names though.

Katherine said...

Hi AJ. Thanks for having me as your guest. I sometimes use a baby name book when I'm trying out names. I hadn't thought to search the internet for them. Good idea.

I have the same problem with picking character names that start with the same letter. I usually have to change at least one name in every manuscript because of that. LOL.

Jannine Gallant said...

I love naming characters. I whip out my handy dandy, extremely tattered baby name book and look for a name whose meaning fits my character. Then I make a list of the characters I've named and avoid the starting letter of each as I add secondary characters. When I fail to do this, disaster follows. In my first published book I had a couple of characters who were just refered to (as in his old girlfriend, Ann). Problem was, I gave them the both the same name! My editor and I didn't catch it until the final galley! But you can put money on the fact that a reader would have noticed. LOL Great post, Katherine.

Katherine said...

Thanks, Jannine. Glad you liked the post. I'm going to borrow your method of keeping track of character names so I don't have the problem of repeated same first letter names. You're right, a reader would definitely have caught the same name for the old girlfriends. Good thing you caught it in the final galley. Thanks for stopping by. :o)

AJ Nuest said...

Back from Christmas shopping! I have to tell you ladies, in a story I'm currently working on (one of about six) I asked my mom to help with the hero's name. She suggested Augustus Peter, and I supplied the last name, Church. After giving this due consideration, I told my mom, "That sounds like a rotund German follow who wears lederhosen." She laughed and said that's the perfect line for your heroine. Then call the hero Gus and make him drop dead gorgeous. Hmmm... Oh wise mother, I think she's got it right!

Katherine said...

Hope you had a successful shopping trip, AJ. I'm planning on finishing my shopping tomorrow.

You're working on six manuscripts at once? Boy, I'm impressed. I can barely manage two. What great suggestions your mom had. She's definitely a wise one. :o)

Calisa Rhose said...

That is a great excerpt! Love the last line. lol

Names- I have one character who still has no name. He won't let me choose one, but he refuses to tell me what it is. He's XX in the wip. But like you, there are those who come to me fully personified. Jon, one of my shifters was like that. I knew more about him as a secondary character then I did his brother, the main character, in book one of the series. In fact, Jon's the reason a single title became a series at all. Luckily all those in the tribe were easy to name appropriately. One of those characters died in the original version of book one, but like a true soap opera, he refused to stay dead and now has his own story, too. Why didn't I just change his name and kill someone else and let him live? He wouldn't allow that.

Great post ladies!

Katherine said...

Thanks, Calisa. The excerpt comes from one my favorite parts of the story. I hope you find out XX's real name soon.

A secondary character in my upcoming novella, The Muse, is a lot like your Jon. He demanded his own story. And now a character from that WIP is demanding his own story.

I love that one of the characters refused to stay dead and is getting his own story and was adamant about it.

Louisa Masters said...

It's the last names that stump me - when I remember to give my characters last names, that is! For some reason, I always want to pick names starting with H...

Terry Odell said...

Love the blog title (Can it be because I wrote an entire book called "What's in a Name?")

Names should sound like the characters' parents named them. I write contemporary, so I'll Google "popular baby names of whatever year my character was born" to get ideas.

I also keep a simple spreadsheet so I don't overuse letters. (Or names--the original version of What's in a Name? had 3 characters named Henry/Hank, which my editor didn't catch. That's before I had my handy-dandy spreadsheet)

I'm reading a book right now with 3 sisters. All their names are "M" names, and although I know families do it, it's driving me nuts keeping track.

Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

Katherine said...

Hi Louisa, I have the same problem with choosing a last name. I have to say the first name with the last name out loud to hear how it sounds. It has to sound "right." Thanks for stopping by. :o)

Katherine said...

Terry, I love the idea of using a spreadsheet. But then I love anything that has to do with using a spreadsheet. You could say I'm kind of addicted to them. :o)

I find that I have the same problem keeping characters straight when I'm reading a book where two or more characters have either names that start with the same letter or the names are similar. I'm reading one now where two of the prominent female characters are named Margaret and Margarita. I'm constantly having to page back and reread sections because I'm confused as to who said or did what.