Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What's in a Name?

Yesterday, I got compliments both on the names of my kids and the names of my characters. Apparently, I am name-tastic. Name-erific. Namazing. Something like that. But now the whole name thing intrigues me, and I'm wondering how other people do it. My naming procedure goes something like this:

1. Whether it's babies or characters, I think through every person I have ever met in my life. This takes a while but is worth it, because if I've met seven people with the name Kartoffelsalat and didn't like any of them, then the name has negative connotations and I can't use it. This of course would never happen, because "Kartoffelsalat" means potato salad in German and it's my experience that people named after potato products are always nice.

I've never met a potato I didn't like.

2. For babies, hubby and I then argue vehemently about the names. If it's a boy, he suggests a bunch of completely inappropriate names that refer to male private parts, but once we start making serious suggestions we come up with something pretty easily. If it's a girl, he suggests a bunch of names that sound like strippers, only this time he's serious and we argue for weeks. Then I make a completely reasonable suggestion like Penelope, nicknamed Penny, which is really cute, only he says that he thinks "Penelope" should be pronounced to rhyme with "antelope," and that sounds like another pervy name when you say it like that.

3. Back to characters. I just kind of play around with my major character names. Usually I pick something that I know hubby will never go for (i.e., there will eventually be a Penelope in one of my books, and hubby can call her Pee-ne-lope all he wants). Or something that will never, ever sound good with the last name "Harris." Like Harry. Maybe Pee-ne-lope and Harry should get together. I'll make a mental note.

4. For minor characters, I usually hit up random names of former acquaintances. My feeling here is that I can't possibly offend anyone by doing this, because a) I don't talk to these people any longer and b) the character doesn't really do much of anything that might reflect on them personally. Although when I put it that way, it does sound a little offensive, like I'm calling them useless or something, so maybe I'd better stick to picking names out of the phone book.

5. And the last but not least important name rule I've got is to steer away from the middle name Wayne, unless I really want my character to be a serial killer. For baby names, though, it's completely out of the question. Not even if you pronounce it to rhyme with antelope.


Mary Witzl said...

I've never met a potato I didn't like either! And Yukon Gold would make a great name for a hero, wouldn't it?

Whenever I've had a bad experience with someone (which is actually not very often), their name goes onto a list. I then play with this list, doctor the names up a little, and sort them out by age and gender, and presto -- I have a great list of names for potential bad guys. (Rejecting agents' names can go on this too, as can kids' teachers or landlords who've been less than helpful -- all sorts of possibilities.) No one will ever recognize themselves, and even if you don't end up using the names, keeping the list feels great. You can do it with nice people's names too, of course.

I once translated a play based on William Shakespeare for a Japanese actress whose agent wanted to call the play 'My Dearest Willy'. I had a heck of a time trying to explain why a British crowd would find this amusing. She finally settled for Will.

PJ Hoover said...

Avoiding a serial killer name is a good idea.
So far, most of my character's names have come to me with little to no question.
Kids names? My daughter is Lola which my son and I totally had to talk my husband into. Love the name, and she does, too!