What’s In A Name?

pat2Ah, names.  The bane of every writer’s existence.  At least, it’s mine.

Names make a difference in novels. The wrong one risks turning off a reader. The name becomes part of the character’s persona. You really don’t want a soft sounding name for a hard hero, or a sweet name for a feisty heroine.

We’re always trying to find the most perfect names for our multitude of characters, good and bad. After fifty-five books, I’m constantly tearing out my hair to find new and distinctive names for my people, most importantly the hero and heroine.
 
I like certain names, and since I usually figure each book stands on its own, I’ve used the same one for several heroes over a 25-year-career. Oops. Big mistake. I’ve discovered some readers really don’t like that, even if the books are completely different.
Where do names come from? Baby books, certainly. I have three of them and I’ll thumb through them until a name hits me as being wonderfully appropriate for a certain character. Friends are a source. Their names have appeared in many of my books. If it’s a western, I’ll look through my western diaries, looking for a name from that particular period. When visiting a museum, I’ll look for lists of individuals who have sailed a ship, or fought a battle or signed a document. I’ve even resorted to the phone book on occasion. That was pure desperation.

In the book now in progress, I had a particularly hard time. It’s a western, and since I’ve written a number of them, I’ve already used names that immediately come to mind. Wade. Ben. Rafe. Marsh. Nick. Ben. Ty. Seth. Usually short one-syllable names that summon images of strength, honesty and directness. I’ve also used Morgan (a family name dear to me), MacKenzie and Lobo. But I try to stick with my one-syllable names. Usually I know the name right from the beginning, but this time I’ve had a few problems. I’ve changed the name of my hero about six times. Nothing sounded exactly right for him. It still doesn’t and I’ll probably change again by the end of the book.

I had similar problems with my heroine. The heroine, raised by a gunfighter, mule skinner and gambler in a mining town, had to have a name both feminine and boyish. Yet I also have to be true to the times. No Blair or Brandy or even Allison.

 

Big problem with both. I’d already used up most of the names scrounged from my usual sources. I have used the names of most of my relatives. My mom is an exception. For some reason I have a difficult time calling my heroine Adelaide Lucille, and I really don’t want to use it for a lesser person, much less a villainess.

So I was more than a little bemused by an article several Sundays ago in “Parade” Magazine. Published in Walter Scott’s “Personality” column, the snippet was headed by this question: “What do you think of celebrities giving their kids far-out names?”

Not much, according to Mr. Scott. “Being the child of a famous person is hard enough without being saddled with a bizarre name.” His choice for the most outlandish name was that of Illusionist Penn Jillette’s daughter, Moxie CrimeFighter.”

Poor kid.

But it mentioned a list of odd names on the internet. Since I’m constantly on the hunt for new and intriguing names, I thought I would explore it.

Internet, here I come. Maybe I could find a terrific name. Or two. I typed in “celebrity names odd.” Maybe I could steal a few.

Now I have to admit I’m an addict. I’m a internet addict. I’m a former newspaper reporter, and former reporters always have more curiosity than is healthy for any one human being. Once I get started on “research,” I don’t come up for air for hours.

So I immersed myself in a surprisingly large number of websites concerning odd odd names, and names in general.

I must admit I blinked several times. I knew, of course, that people sometimes give their children strange and mysterious names. My mother tells the story of a girlhood friend who was named Pansy Pansygrew. All the other children always taunted her, “two Pansies and only one grew.” Children can be cruel.

But I digress. While searching the treasure mine of names, I thought I would share some of my findings of unusual names with fellow writers. Here’s a sampling:

Director Robert Rodriguez, who was on an “alliterative’” roll, named his children Rocket, Racer, Rebel, Rogue and Rhiannon (daughter). The last isn’t so bad. It’s rather pretty, but I would think she’ll spend a good part of her life spelling it for clerks and teachers and civil servants. And “Rogue?” How do you live up – or down – to that one?

I think I’ll pass on those.

Okay, what about Actresses Rachel Griffiths and Shannyn Sossamon who named their children Banjo and – take a deep gulp – Audio Science? Yep. It’s true. I think I’ll take a pass on that one.

Onward. The late British television personality Paula Yates named her four children Peaches Honeyblossom, Fifi Trixibelle, Pixie, and Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily. Yes, that last name really is four words. Fifi? Pixie? Peaches Honeyblossom?

My editor would run screaming into the street.

What about Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver’s kids – Poppy Honey and Daisy Boo?

Thank you, but no thank you.

Adelaide is beginning to sound very good. Surely, though, there should be a catchy usable name in one of these lists.

Jason Lee of “My Name is Earl” named his son Pilot Inspektor. Now that one really stumps me, just as it will every person who ever meets him. At least it’s unique. But I don’t think one of my heroes would appreciate the creativity.

Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin named their daughter Apple Martin after a drink, and their baby son Moses. I don’t think either will really appreciate the monikers. I know my heroine and hero would have lifelong trauma.

Some other celebrity children’s names: Reighbeau, Freedom, Kyd, Tallulah Belle, Moon Unit, Diva, and Dweezil (now Dweezi is really going to have a real problem with her parents – Bruce Willis and Demi Moore).

Enough! I quit. Maybe John and Judy and Jane and Harold will have to do. Adelaide Lucille is looking better by the moment.

How do the other writers here decide on names? I thought I could help a bit, but . . .

And now I have two questions for you, and I’ll send one of my westerns to the poster with the most interesting answer:

1. What’s the most unusual name you’ve ever heard?

2. How does a character’s name affect your opinion of him? Or her?

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40 thoughts on “What’s In A Name?”

  1. Hi Pat! Very interesting post. Names sometimes give me fits, too. Usually, the names of my hero and heroine pop into my head right along with the story idea. But occasionally, a hero’s name (it’s always the hero, heroines are easy) turns into an ordeal of trial and error. Nothing sounds right. Nothing fits. I have one ms. in progress that’s nearly half finished and in every place where the hero’s name is supposed to appear, there’s a blank line. My writer pals toss names at me for this guy like they were confetti, and I swat them away as just as fast as they come. Nothing seems to fit. Wonder if it’s permitted to submit something with an untitled hero, like you would submit an untitled manuscript?

    The one unusual name that’s stayed with me through the years belonged to Ima Hogg, heiress and Texas philanthropist. I always wondered why her parents gave her such an awful name. I visited the Varner Plantation, southwest of Houston, which was Ms. Hogg’s family home. She’s a local legend, and it’s mostly because of her memorable name.

  2. I know two Aprils:
    April Day and April Shauers (Showers)

    Men’s names:
    Luke, Matt, Jake, Jace, Nate, Chase, Shane, Brett, Grey, Reese, Will

    Woman’s names for your book:
    Lily (Lil),Anna, Leigh, Marty, Holly, Brooke, Rose, Leah, Mae, Daisy, April, Billie, Maggie (Meg), Sally, Summer, Lydie, Autumn, June, Stacy, Marcia, Marie, Valerie (Val), Violet (Vi), Mercy, Molly, Merry

  3. What a great post! I sometimes wondered where celebrities come up with some of their children names. Two stranges names that I have heard of are Darea for a girl and Truckson for a boy.
    I never really paid much attention to the character’s name and how it related to the character. I think I would like a name that fits the character. It doesn’t bother me to see the same name use in different stories as long as it fits the character. To me what makes the character is how the character is portrayed more than the name of the character.

  4. One of the worse names ive ever came in contact with was a couple named their son Cocaine!Now what do you expect of him,to be the CEO of a company or Head of the Baptist Church?He lived up to his name an ended up in prison,the poor soul started out with strikes against him,the parents should be ashamed of themselves to saddle a innocent baby with something like that!Just my opinion

  5. I love to search for names for my heroes and heroines on the Social Secutiry Administration page on the Internet (http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/#state). You can search for actual names used as far back as 1880 and see up to the top 1000 most popular ones for both boys and girls. What fascinates me is how popular some girls’ names were for boys and vice versa. In the top 350 for 1880 are boys’ names: Marion, Leslie, Pearl, Allie, Pink, and Mary. How about Pearl or Pink for your hero? No? Then how about these very feminine names, also in the top 350 for 1880: William, Artie, and George. And for some reason, the name Missouri was very popular for girls at that time. Crazy, huh? Thankfully, most of the names on this site are great and really help give a story an authentic historic flair.

    Some of the names that I’ve heard of that stuck with me for regular, non-celebrity people are Tinny Cann and Dusty Rhodes. My mom went to school with the first, and I have worked with the second. The things parents do to their kids.

  6. Laurie. . .Some great names there. I particularly like Jace and Grey. I already have Reese in the book as a secondary character. I love that name, probably because I had a very good friend with that name.

    And Karen, thanks so much for the website. I was not aware of it, but now intend to visit
    frequently.

    Vickie. . .I agree. Nameing a child Cocaine is nothing less than child abuse.

    Devon. . . I’m glad I’m not the only one with name problems. Like you, the name usually pops out with the story, but sometimes . . .

  7. I’m just fighting with names right now. I’ve had to abandon my hero’s name. So, go through and rename him. And rework every reference to his name.
    sigh
    But the name wasn’t working so it had to go. It’s a regular word but I deliberately spelled it funny for this exact reason…I wasn’t sure about it. So, I could fix it with find and replace easily.
    I once named a character Chance and when that stopped working I did find and replace and every CHANCE in the book, including the word used in it’s regular context changed.
    I had an Eli once I changed to Walker. Nightmare.
    Find and Replace was just CRUEL.
    Changed the word ‘believe’ to ‘bwalkerve’.

  8. Cool blog!

    Ok-here’s my answers to your questions!
    1) I have come across a lot of unusual names! I went to school with a girl named Pleansant Leigh (can you even begin to imagine what people said about her name in high school?)Ill have to say her’s is the most unusual name Ive come across in person!… I also had a boy in my class who was Asian-his name was pronounced “Tampon”…I dont recall the spelling though!

    Unusual names in books: Stephanie Laurens uses some nice ones in her Cynster series (Regency)-Demon, Gabriel, Lucifer, Vane (these were actually not their real names-but they go by them)

    J R Ward uses really cool names as well for her vampire series: Wrath, Rhage, Zsadist, Phury, Vishous, Tohrment, Tehrror, Dehstroyer…I think they are cool anyway! 🙂 I think people who write paranormal have more room to venture out with the odd names!

    2)I think character’s names need to be as strong as they are! If a character has a name that doesnt fit, the story just doesnt flow as well! The character’s name is a character also-just like in a book-the town can be a character or the persons horse!

    I also think it’s a nice touch to have a heroine who’s very very feisty, very strong and opinionated to have a name that means something that is the direct opposite of her attitude!

    Character names can be sexy, funny, strong, unusual-these all catch my attention right from the beginning!

    (Sorry for such a long post-but this is one of my favorite subjects) 🙂

  9. Hi! great post, Pat! I love finding names, sometimes even the newspaper works and I sleep on the idea… actually I kinda like Adelaide a lot. It’s a family name. And Addie works in most eras. One-syllable hero names do seem very manly. As for the celebs, most of them seem like idiotic indulgent people to begin with who need lots of attention. Poor souls.

  10. Hi Pat,
    I struggle with names for my characters usually too. But if I stumble upon a name anytime during my story, I’ll save it, write it down and use it sometime down the road. I have been known to go to the Profession Rodeo association website — you’d be surprised what great names I find of rodeo riders, both first and last names.

    Loved your search of Odd Names on the Internet.
    Audio Science and Moxie Crimefighter? Geesh, they make Apple Martin sound normal!

  11. Oh my goodness, some of those names… what are parents thinking!?! Off the top of my head, I can not think of any odd ones that I have heard, but I know they are out there. A kid named Cocaine, that is just wrong!
    I know some names fits a character more than others… but if the story is well written and grabs my attention, The name does not influence me… I look for the whole of a story and of course the HEA.

  12. my comment says it’s awaiting moderation…so-I dont know if you can see the original post-if not then, I would think it looks kind of crazy to correct my typo LOL!

  13. What a fun posting! Right about the time that I hit Jr.High, I realized that I didn’t really like my name all that much. Stephanie just didn’t seem to suit the kind of person I turned out to be. Stephanie is a perky name, like I should’ve been a cheerleader. Petite, blonde, and bubbly. But, I’m not. I’m just me. Brown hair, brown eyes, NOT petite and definitely NOT bubbly. My dad wanted to name me Berean after the Berean church down the street, but my Mom wasn’t interested, so they settled on Stephanie (after my dad, Steven). So, anyway, when I read a book I do seem to draw an immediate impression of the character based on their name.

    I have to admit I have rolled my eyes and some of them. Names don’t always have to be historically accurate or anything (no Eunice, Fern, Dorcus or Opal) but I wonder where all the Henry’s, Mary’s, James’ and Emma’s went. The normal names. Sometimes it just seems unrealistic that hard working farmers would pick exotic names for their children…but then again maybe not? My grandma was one of 14 kids and her parents were dirt poor farmers. Some of those names include Rosetta (Zetta)and Bonita (Bonnie).

    Some really fun/weird names? I read a great romance novel a LONG time ago. I can’t remember the author, but it was one of my fav’s. My mom probably still has it on her bookcase. Anyway, the hero’s name was Gallahad Callahan. And he would punch people out for even thinking about making fun of his name. He went by Callahan.
    I also have a friend who named her daughter Arizona (which I love) and they call her Zoe.
    One of my girlfriends has boy/girl twins name Stryder and Saylor. Another one of my girlfriends named her kids Dallin (g), Tawny (g), Calvin, Hyrum, & Sophie. I kind of like the old-fashioned names. Another family friend named their kids: Jane, Ethan, Clair, Amy and Owen.

    My current favs: Wyatt and Kara.

    Sorry, I always post a novellette when I write on here.

  14. 2. How does a character’s name affect your opinion of him? Or her?

    Usually a character’s name isn’t something I really even “notice”, even a bit odd names are fine with me, unless there’s something really wrong about it, and there’s one name that has really struck me as strange: a Finnish guy, whose name is Jarl Hendricks. Definitely not a Finnish name and at least to me it didn’t seem very Swedish, either -and we obviously have our share of those.

  15. Stephanie. . . Please don’t apologize. I loved your post. Full of good stuff. I like Wyatt and Kara too. Think I might steal them sometime.

    Going back in old records, there’s just a lot of Johns and Marys and other names from the Bible. Emma is a really good historical name but I always think of Emmas as prim and proper, and most of my heroines are of the tomboyish persuasion. My current one is Samantha, but everyone calls her Sam (she’s raised in a ghost mining camp by a gunman, gambler and mule skinner). When the hero very reluctantly falls in love with her, he starts using Samantha.

  16. I thought long and hard when naming my two children. I wanted somewhat different (when I went to school I knew 4 Linda’s and 3 Janets, 4 Kathy/Cathy’s etc. etc.) but nothing too weird. I also didn’t want nicknames. My first is named April and my second is Alysa. Can you believe she got called Ape or Apes (and she’s a tiny thing) arghhhh and my youngest never gets her name pronounced right. So I guess I didn’t do as good as I thought after all but they at least like their names. As to a strange name – my daughter’s best friend is named Zuly. It grows on you lol.

  17. Hi Patricia, Loved your blog! I’m on Book #10 and finding names has gotten downright difficult. I’ve been known to go to the Social Security website, look at names for 1888 and say, “Okay, I’ll use No. 14, whatever it is!’ That gets me started, and late I stumble on something that fits and change it.

    My favorite hero name is Jake. I haven’t repeated it, but I’m tempted.

  18. I believe it is the name Storm; my friend’s son and his fiancee named one of their boys STORM. Why???

    Characters names that are names of people I have an issue with affect me. Penny is a name of two different females I have had issues with over the years and at times find it hard to even say the name in my mind when reading a story with that name in it. Honestly!!!!

    I used to be in love with a Nick and to this day love the use of that name.

  19. Nick is one of my favorite names, too.

    Karen and Victoria. . . thanks for the tip on the Social Security website. I’m going there now.

  20. I have always liked names that could be shortened to a man’s name like Samantha, or Chris.

    I tried to get my niece to name her little girl Cassandra Elaine and call her Cassie. I just thought that was pretty.

    Always had in mind to name a son Nathan Carl and a Daughter Elizabeth Ashley, but I couldn’t have any children.

  21. I went to school with a Velveeta.

    Unless names are really obviously weird, they don’t bother me much. I remember the uproar on the Heyer mailing list over the hero named Waldo. I barely noticed.

  22. can anyone tell me why my comment still says awaiting moderation? I dont know if I typed out something I should have or what!

  23. All I can really say about names is, if your name is …. oh …. Connealy or something. Or if it’s Jason only spelled JaySon. Or if it’s Amy spelled Aimee…you’ve just GOT to be a good sport about people mispronouncing it or misspelling it. You’ve GOT to give people a break.

    Shelley-Shelly.
    JoAnne, joann, Jo Ann.
    Jared Jarrod.
    I saw Sherry up there. I’ve got a sil named Cheri.
    It’s very complicated these days.

  24. I have to thank my children for doing such a good
    job of naming our ten grandchildren! The names
    are Ashley Eileen, Taylor Orion, Paul Alan, Julia
    Michelle, Morgan Scott, Mason Alexander, Abbey
    Eileen, Sadie Mackenzie, Tristan Blake, and Jude
    Harrison. ( Six of the names are Beatles-connected)

    Pat Cochran

  25. My nephew named his children Declan(boy), Siobhan(girl), Seanan(boy), all good irish names. Yes, the name of the character does make a difference. I can see Dillon as a strong trustworthy cowboy. Put Dilbert in its place and it just doesn’t work. Of course, Dil works as a nickname for both, but it isn’t a strong name. Adelaide really is a lovely name. It is a name that brings feminine maturity to mind and shortens nicely to Addy or Del for a cute tomboy. There are really good names out there that won’t work for some people. There are those we’ve all met that turned out to be terrible people and their name will forever carry a stigma. Wanted to name our first daughter Rebecca Fairlight (Fairlight was a book character’s name) but they wouldn’t let me. Said that with our last name it wouldn’t fit on any forms. Too bad, I still love it.

  26. Sorry to post again, but I just had a thought about something I had forgotten. When I was born my parents were sent home with a baby book and towards the back was a list of baby names and a section entitled, “Help in Choosing Baby’s Name.” When I was younger I used to read this section a lot picking out my “new name” since, as I mentioned earlier, I didn’t care for Stephanie.

    Anyway, I thought I’d share part of that section with you gals since I always thought it was funny:

    “Select a name in harmony with the family name…say the full name aloud. A girl’s given name should be selected with the thought that some day the last name will be changed. For instance – Mr. and Mrs. Jones named their daughter Hope Irene. She married a fellow by the name of Ketchum — so, she became ‘Hope I.Ketchum’. Likewise, Eileen Agnes Jones married Frank Ginster. Hence her name became ‘Eileen A. Ginster'”

    Ahhh… Yeah. I thought that was kind of funny.

  27. The name that has stuck in my mind is Harry Pye, this one has stayed with me for a long time.

    My fathers name was Eldon I always thought that was different then most.

  28. Several names came to mind as I pondered this.
    Heard of a girl named Christa Chanda Lear.
    Had friends who named their daughter Amy Marie because her last name started with a “Y” so her initials also spelled her first name. A former student named her daughter Neveah (heaven spelled backwards). I also know of a grandmother who never called her grandaughter by her given name because she didn’t think the name fit her so sher gave her one of her own.

    As far as a character’s name affecting how I think of them, I don’t think that it does for me because just like most babies I have known, surprisingly their name soon fits the.

  29. I posted above also.
    another strange/different name is that of our only granddaughter(dare I say it): Antaya. I had never heard of this name before. I think it is cute now that it’s grown on me.

    Fay/Faye is another name I associate with 2 different females whom I have had issues with for years and don’t like the name b/c of associating it with them.

  30. On a wedding invite-the groom’s last name was Hooi. His father’s name was Wah. Someone had a sense of humor, but that poor man had to live with it.

    A girl I knew was named Crystal Silver. She married an Apple. Hence Crystal Apple. I guess anything can be crystal.

    It took me a while to catch on in the Without a Trace TV show that Agent Samantha Spade was Sam Spade.

  31. Hi Patricia! I do like names that I think I can say! I notice with paranormals, that alot of the names are unique, but most I cannot say. Partly its because I can’t hear and no idea how to pronounce them, but too I was told that many never heard of some names and don’t know how to say them either! I can’t think of many but remember one being strange, but that a few of the characters names in the book was hard to follow like their names being Aspen and Phoenix and those together I kept thinking of cities.

    I would like to see some names like my parents, Inez and Leonard. But I’ve never seen them. Even my dad’s middle name was Oscar. I guess that’s not a romantic one, LOL

    I think the names do need to be fitting to the time period especially with the historicals. Lke Regency I remember some common as Elizabeth and Penelope, and Catherine, but to see one as a current name Akasha like or even the spelling unique (like Cydney instead of Cindy) may feel off in a historical.

  32. I just needed to say that I found your site via Goolge and I am glad I did. Keep up the good work and I will make sure to bookmark you for when I have more free time away from the books. Thanks again!

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