Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What’s in a Name?

I write fantasy, which means that I like to use unique and different names to help create that setting. 
I began writing in junior high, and I created what I called the ‘Random Namer,’ something that I still have and that has served me well over many, many years.  (And amazingly I still have the original.  I’ve kept it well preserved.)  It’s just a simple notecard, I’ve cut to create two sliding numbered bars.  I choose a random number, say 12 and write down the letter associated with that number (in the picture below, it would be 'b'.  Then I set number one to the letter I just used (b) and write down the next number twelve.  

Random Namer

 I separated the consonants and vowels so that I can be sure that there are vowels in the names. 
With this small device, I’ve created hundreds of names.  Not all of them are good, but there are some that are absolutely perfect.  In fact, this created a name that my husband wants to use for one of our children.  (We’re still debating about that.  Denego’s pretty evil.  I don’t really want to name a son after him.)

I’ve also used the first letters (or two letters) in words during class lectures when I got bored.  I’ve taken several names and mixed them together into a final one.  I’ve taken names of drugs (because I think they sound funny anyway) and turn them backwards.  You’d be surprised how many ways there are to find unique sounding names.

And I feel that I’ve gotten to the point where I know when a name sounds ‘right’ and when it just sounds foreign.  Some of my favorites are Kanya, Denego, Larzo, Hanen, Pazdina, Sitna, Aydra, Karvid and Edric.

When I’m first plotting out a story, letting it spin around in my brain, I don’t choose their names automatically.  I’ll use generic names while trying to figure out plot points so that I don’t have to worry about that until the story is being written.  Then I’ll change them.  I’ve only had one instance where I had a character who refused to let me change his name.  I tried several times until I realized that he is and always will be Benji, even if it’s a fairly typical name.

I have no qualms about changing a character’s name over and over until it feels right.  I had one character change names three times until it felt right.   He started as Onispa, then became Vikezany, and now he's finally known as Onis.  I’ve even changed a character’s name, not because his name didn’t fit, but because in the sequel there were too many characters with names that started with the same letter.
For me, the name has to fit.  Otherwise, it just doesn’t feel right, and I can’t stop obsessing over it.

How do you find names for characters?  Have you ever read a name that rubs you the wrong way or do they even matter?