Monday, November 15, 2010

What's In A Name?

Taking a break, because I need to, while waiting for the edits to get to me via mail, I'm posting this instead of the usual post I make on Mondays. But this isn't all that different from my WORDS post, because as much as I love words, I love unusual names even more.

Do you collect names? If you don't, and find yourself wondering what to call a character, you should begin a little notebook of names.

I definitely love to find unusual names, either for a town, a street, or a person. I love to find new ones. I just never know where I might hear, or even see a great name, and believe me I'll use it, if it's good and I feel it fits my character.

Back when I began my first fantasy book Spell of the Black Unicorn, I needed an usual name for my main character. Then, one night while watching news, I heard the name of a woman who had come from some eastern European country. The news was sad; she had died sustaining head injuries from ice falling from the tall buildings in Chicago while Christmas shopping with her sister. The story was such a tragic one, and her name Zofia was just perfect and I felt that immortalizing her name in that of my main character was a fitting tribute to a woman I never knew. Zofia happens to be a sorceress from another planet. She had her own voice, born inside my head, deciding who and what she was right away. She was my version of Samantha on Bewitched.

Another way of finding names—aside from watching news, but I hardly use any more—is to thumb through the white pages of the phone book (now people have cell phones and there are so few names in the phone book any more), but I got my villain's name this way and switched the letters just a little bit and added the last name that went so well with it: Vesselvod Blood.

Because I needed a few character's names to stand out, I needed one for an unusual invisible, and cantankerous servant and named him Biddle.

And in the second book, just for snickers, I'd named a woman character, Mrs. Clutterbutt. Well, I have to have fun once in a while. And this series was meant to make readers snicker, even if at a name.

Another character who is barely in the book, yet has a role was the Immortal, Paradeep. There were other interesting characters, like Blood's evil sister, Xilamorah. I'm not even sure where this came from, but possibly it was born from something said in a Harry Potter movie.

Names can be found everywhere. If you need a name for a character—or several—to stand out, look around you. I'll bet you can find a few here or there, while driving around, or even on products. I found Azalea, once on some bath tissue. There's lots of old-time names, which have come back in style, too. In fact my sister's name, Charlotte, is a pretty one. And I've found an unusual way to spell it and am using it in my third book for a minor character.

You can look up Greek, and Latin names, just look on the surface of the moon and find craters, like Eratosthenes, Theophilus, and so forth for unusual place names. Stars have great names too, like Rigel, Vega, Capella.

Sometimes using a book on baby names is good place to look. I've also gotten some first names on a site for vampire names, like Argent, Bram, Draven, Leopold, Refuge, Rogue, Skyler, or Strigon. For women: Amaranth, Argent, Chalice, Cordelia, Essence, Lenore, Lilith, Lucretia, Mist, Pandora, and Omen. Although I think Omen sounds more male. Also Zillah is a cool name, as is Zephyr. Brings up lots of images there.

I sometimes mix the letters in names too, or just switch them around. I have a new character in my next novel and wanted something with a Q. I believe I experimented a few times, and found that Quist was a great last name, and it fit him.

One name struck me just recently; it was the name of a female horse that won all but one of her twelve races—Zenyatta, and I'd learned that this came from an album (although I don't know the band, now), and have used it in my third novel, but changing one letter keeps it fresh and not exactly a copy.

So, if you find yourself scrounging around for names for characters, or street names, or towns, you'd better begin writing names down that you come across. I love to have something to write on while traveling, because some states just have the weirdest town names, that could be used for common names, too. Like Iliff, Brule, Darr, Eustis, Gandalf, or Anavida.

One last name I want to share with you, and the unusual place where I got it. I needed a name for a forbidden place on Zofia's world. I tried for weeks to come up with something, and it was staring right at me—or rather I was staring at it. It was the name on the side of an antique cheese box where I kept pens and such on my desk. The word? Hamparzum's.

Happy name hunting!

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