Friday, October 06, 2006

What's in a name?

I was standing in the check-out at the local grocery this morning when I noticed the clerk's nametag. Terah. Tara, only spelled uniquely. Different, I thought, but not outrageously weird.

Which brings me to character names and how I choose them as the subject for today's blog.

First, I go by time period. I have to think a name at least sounds appropriate for the time, at least to my ear. I'll fudge a little, as in the case of the lovely "Rhiannon" which I used in a medieval, although it wasn't commonly used by the Welsh for a person's name until about the 19th century, if memory serves. But you're not going to see any "Tiffanys" or names that seem too 20th century to me in any of my books unless I switch to contemporaries.

Then I think about how the name actually sounds to the ear, and how it looks on the page. I like my heroes to have strong names, so I have a lot of names with hard syllables in them.

I have to actually like the names of my main characters. After all, I'll be living with these names for several months.

I care about my villains' names, too, so I lot of the time I'll pick names for them that are, well, kinda ugly or harsh, at least to me.

However, I was hoist on my own petard by this with the sequel to my first book, A WARRIOR'S QUEST. The hero of that book had started out as the villain's "yes man" for my first book, A Warrior's Heart, so I named him Urien. Obviously, this looks a lot like another word for a certain bodily fluid -- which was fine when he was the villain's yes man. But during the course of A WARRIOR'S HEART, he developed a conscience, and with it, hero potential. Unfortunately, by the time I got the okay for the sequel, the first book was out and my hero was "stuck" with that name. I understand "Urien" was used as an example of what NOT to name a hero in the editorial offices for a while. So if there's a baddie who might have hero potential? I don't give him a fugly name.

I think I've been specifically asked to change a hero's name by my editor before writing a book only once. She didn't like "Edmund". Why, I'm not exactly sure, but okay. This book wasn't a medieval, so I changed his name to...Paris. The heroine was something of a bluestocking and I've always found it interesting that in the Iliad, Paris keeps getting whisked off the battlefield by some goddess and finds himself (oh, surprise!) in Helen's boudoir. I made that my heroine's interpretation of the legendary figure, too, and as I wrote THE WASTREL, that name for the hero seemed to work better and better, until I couldn't imagine him with any other name.

Sometimes writers get asked to change the name of a character in the finished manuscript. I have a vague recollection (it has been 42 books) that maybe I was asked to do this once; even if I haven't, I can appreciate that it's really tough to do. As with my man Paris, the name becomes part of the character as I envision him or her.

I did have one character once whose name was pretty much inconsequential to me, and that would be the hero I simply thought of (and still do) as The Voice. His first wife had tried to strangle him and his voice box was damaged, so he could only ever speak in a sort of husky whisper. That book was The Baron's Quest.

I've also taken some grief over the years for my Welsh characters and the names I've given them. My own sister once asked me "What's with all the Welsh?" This would be the one who told me that in her mind, she pronounced "Griffydd" (the hero of A WARRIOR'S PASSION) as "Griff-id-da-da". In case you're curious, in Welsh, "ff" is pronounced as "f", a single "f" is the same as a "v", dd = th and "w" is literally "double U". So his name was, simply, Griffith, as in Andy. Why so many Welsh characters? I love their accent. Rent the director's cut of the film King Arthur with Ioan Gruffudd and listen to the actors' interviews. The way he says "Kiera" and "arrow" are just...well, I could listen to him all day. Also, their names are just plain neat.

However, it does help if a name is easy to type (see above re working with it for months).

I don't generally give my characters a lot of nicknames, and I don't think I ever have in my medievals (although I could be wrong, especially when it comes to some of the earlier books). I have given secondary characters nicknames, most notably (to me, anyway) "Foz" (Sir Fozbury Cheddington) and "Buggy" Bromwell (Lord Justinian Boswell) in the books I wrote for Avon. I have a lot of affection for these guys, so it seemed only natural. My heroes tend to be a little more...imposing, perhaps? Not the sort of guy you give a cute moniker to, anyway.

There are several things I consider when I'm creating my characters, and their names are just one aspect. However, I obviously think names are an important one, or I wouldn't have so many criteria!


Kathy K said...

Hi Margaret,

I was online awhile ago and came across a book cover that I knew was yours, except the book was someone else's. I realized the cover was similar to one of yours so I saved the picture, but I've not been able to find it since.

The cover in question is from your book The Rogue's Return; I was wondering how often does this happen?? The other book in question is Paula Marshall's Prince of Secrets, ISBN 0-373-30498-6.

Just curious,

Kathy K said...

I didn't express myself well; I still have the picture of the book cover, I just don't remember where I found it online.


Margaret Moore said...

THE ROGUE'S RETURN has been out of print for a long time, so I guess they figured why not. They used the cover for THE DARK DUKE again, too. I was surprised when I realized it, but they're nice covers, so...I guess they figured why pay for new art when my books aren't available (except used) anymore?

This seems to be a new development -- at least it is to me -- so I don't know how often they've done it.

Anne said...

Was the book with "The Voice" ever under a different title? I seem to remember it as The Overlords Bride, but maybe I'm mistaken?