Rhonda and Wanda came along with us on our recent road trip. Rhonda was the Google maps lady on my phone, and Wanda was on Miss T’s phone for those occasions when I had no cell reception. After all, I couldn’t continue to swear at the voice with no name. It didn’t sound right:
‘You want me to turn where?’
‘For f$#%s sake Google Map Lady!’
See what I mean?
It was much more civilised to say things like:
‘How would I know which way to go? Let me ask Rhonda!’ or
‘Rhonda says we have to take the second exit- not the third,’ or
‘For f#$%s sake, Rhonda!’
The process of naming the Google Map Lady filled in some otherwise uneventful motorway time. Each name we came up with had an association with someone else- and generally someone we liked. I couldn’t yell and curse at someone I liked. None of us had a friend called Rhonda…or Wanda…
I’m having a similar yet different problem at present. I’m trying to name a character who I don’t like. In fact, if I knew this person in real life, I’m sure that she’d be on my list- and trust me, that’s not somewhere that you’d want to be.
It’s like that old saying:
Don’t upset the writer…
You could end up in a book…
But let’s not go there in case I incriminate myself, or slip into revenge fantasy mode.
Sometimes I think I spend longer on the names of the characters I don’t like than the names of the characters I do like. Why? Partly in case someone I do like is offended, but mostly in case someone on my list imagines that I’ve based the person on them. And, in case you’re wondering: so far I’ve resisted the temptation- although I have come close….and no, I’m not telling…
So, how do I go about naming a character? Here are my favourite places to find names:
- Those google searches where you type in things like “most popular girls names in New Zealand in 1989,” or “most popular boys names in Australia in 1978.” Believe it or not, there’s a world of difference between popular names in 1989 in Australia, England, New Zealand and the USA. Just saying.
- It’s important to keep the cultural background or class and upbringing of your character in mind. If I’m after someone a little more upper middle than middle class, I might google the names of school captains of particular elitist establishments. Another favourite source is searching player names from sporting teams. For my current male protagonist, I googled All Blacks teams- yes, he’s a Kiwi, and no, he’s not named after Dan Carter…although I was tempted. I like to think he could look a little like Dan Carter…cue swoon now.
- I make a note of names I like of people who are a similar age to my characters in reality shows- my viewing repertoire is limited to cooking and renovation shows…but you get the idea.
- The credits of TV shows.
- Characters in TV shows.
- Cyclone names. Yes, really. There’s a Wikipedia site- you can google it. How do I know? I went through a stage where my ideal job was to be the person who gets to name the cyclones.
For any writers out there- where do your characters names come from? Do you have any suggestions for me?
This is actually something that’s a lot harder than people expect… the naming of characters. In my half-hearted novel writing attempt I realised I hadn’t picked names because I didn’t have a visual of the person or character in my head.
It’s a bit like naming a child I suspect… although you can change halfway through writing there can really be no regrets or you stumble – not ‘feeling’ like you know this person or where they’re going. It’s a big commitment!
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