Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Trying to come up with the right name for a character, I realized all the names I never use because they have too much baggage associated with them. This can apply to famous fictional names or famous real names. Name someone Stella and how can you not remember Stanley Kowalski hollering for her in the street? Though young'uns may not have the same association. I'd never use a host of names too closely associated with one character/person.
Another problem is that names date. A person of either age ninety or two could rightly be named Vivian, Ella, Harriet, Evelyn, Isabelle etc. In between we have the generations of Carol, Barbara, Nancy, Pat. Followed by Jennifer, Amy, Chris and Laura.
Someone reading my novel recently hated the protagonist's name (Violet). Said it made her seem like an old lady. Well, yes it did if you were over fifty and you remembered your great aunts having that name. But under thirty, you'd pick it for your baby. It's fresh for them.
Do you have trouble with names? What do you think about the name Violet?


Anonymous said...

I like the name Violet, but it conjurs up a very shy person for me because I always think of "Shrinking Violet". Can't remember where the phrase came from but it refered to a very shy and retiring person.

As for names, that's the easiest for me, they just seem to pop in my head. I love reading the credits after a movie. I found a wonderful name there - Plummy Tucker. Great for a country story.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I just lost a whole long comment on this, but suffice it to say, that I tend to reuse names too much if I'm not careful. Esp. male diminutive names. Do criminals keep their childhood name.
Love Plummy. I have a cousin, Simmy.

Anonymous said...

When trying to come up names slows me down I use names of people I know--then go back later and change them. [Although I recently used the last name of a departed friend in a flash piece called "Punch Drunk". I think he woulda' liked it.]
As for Violet: I'll wait until the book hits the shelves before throwing in my 2cents worth:)
John McAuley

Graham Powell said...

I actually have to keep a file of used names now so I don't use them again. But I love coming up with names. My current favorite: Lucinda Pettibone.

Megan said...

I'm not much for the flower names myself, but I find "Violet," like "Rose" and "Lily," pretty transparent. I typically find that I aim for unobtrusive names for characters, because most people have unobtrusive names.

If I'm looking for period names I go to the SCA's Academy of St. Gabriel site. Geeks do the best legwork. I also like that site for fantasy or other non-real world work.

The Social Security Administration also has a century's worth of name data. (Man, "Michael" has been big for a long time.) That's useful for pinpointing the generational appropriateness (or at least likelihood) of a name. It's also interesting to observe how trends are cyclical.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Blogger keeps losing my comments today, so thanks for the tips and maybe I'll change her name after all.

Gerald So said...

Character names usually come to me. Occasionally, I'll use a name that has stuck in my mind for whatever reason. Like you, I'm wary of loaded names ala Marlowe and Spenser. I don't want the baggage.

One of the longest times I've spent on a name was for the protag of "Home". In the earliest draft, his name was "Jack Charles," but by the time "Home" was published, I had published several stories with a protag named "C.J. Stone," and the initials were just too coincidental to last.

It was a while after I came up with his new name, "Tom Gregory," that I realized those were the names of a friend's brother and cousin.

In the case of C.J. I suppose I'm cheating a bit. One of his names was mentioned in the first story, but I may just make that a guess. Stone is a mercenary pilot and the nickname "Siege" seemed to go with that.

Gerald So said...

About the name Violet, it doesn't feel as dated to me as other names. I recall a book by Robert B. Parker wherein the names seemed particularly off. A teenage girl of the new millennium was named Eleanor, nicknamed Billie.

That aside, I think characters grow into their names to an extent. Ian Fleming chose the name "James Bond" because he wanted a plain-sounding name. I doubt it strikes anyone as plain anymore. So depending on the kind of character Violet is, she could make her name relevant.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I spent the whole three hours of watching Cymbelline trying to come up with a better name. It may be too late for me to think of another name that feels like her.

Unknown said...

Then I guess she's a Violet. :)

r2 said...

Did you know that Jennifer Garner's daughter is named Violet?

Seems pretty hip to me.