Wednesday, April 18, 2007

What's in a name?

On the weekend, I finished the first draft of the end of KNAVE'S HONOR, typing "The End?" (yes, with a question mark, because there is still much work to be done).

After I typed "The End?", I had a moment of revelation. I want the next book I write to be linked to KH, and had a sort of vague connection in mind. But then it occurred to me that I could make the villain's wife in this book the heroine of the next! That'll work! And here's how...and my mind went into serious planning mode, which is always exciting.

Then I encountered a problem. The villain's wife's name is Selinda. Now, I like that name. I think it's pretty. However, the way I originally envisioned (and wrote) her, she was spiteful, then "saw the light" and wound up on the side of the good guys. Because she didn't start out a nice woman, I was fine with the sibilant "s" at the start of her name. But I don't want that long "s" at the start of a heroine's name, because it sounds like a hiss, and a hiss is not a sound I want associated with my heroine.

So now I need to find a new name. And after 42 books and novellas? This is no easy task. I want it to be new, as in, not previously used for a hero or heroine of mine before. I also have to like it, and like the way it looks on the page. That narrows the field down considerably.

So I turn to my two primary sources of names. One is a binder, with lists made by me, back in the pre-computer era when I was just starting to write. I went to the library and got a big book of baby names that listed their origins. I went through that entire book, dividing the names by origin and making a new list based on that. It took a long time, but I was also trying to get my typing back up to speed.

Now we have the internet, so I also look there, starting with this site, which is actually a gamers site, but I like it because of all the variations available. If my character is of a particular background (say, Irish or Welsh), I do a search of names based on location.

I also want the name to sound appropriate to the time period, so no Whitneys, Britneys, or Tiffanys for me, no matter when they actually came into use. If a name sounds too modern to me, it's out.

I try to take into account when a name was actually used, but if I like it and it sounds like it could have been in use in my time period, I'll use it anyway. Rhiannon comes to mind. Although it was the name of Welsh goddess, it wasn't used as a given name before the 20th century. I used it in a medieval.

This time, my daughter was home, so she was my consultant. I trust her judgment. But if you ever need proof that a writer's family can engage in some bizarre conversations, here's how parts of this discussion went.

"Look at this one -- Geuecok. Gooey-cock? Euuww!"

"And this one -- Molde. Gooey-cock and Molde, ye olde STDs."

"Gooey-cock and Molde, attorneys-at-law."

"Gooey-cock and Molde, the ugly step-sisters."

Then I found a name I liked, but it started with "A." I already have a couple of secondary characters whose names begin with A, so I said, "That's out." To which Daughter-Whose-Name-Begins-With-An-A replies, "But all the best people have names beginning with A."

I stand firm. I can't use names starting with the letters B, G, F, or W, either.

I go to R. Rosalynde...that's out because of Roberta Gellis's book. But here's what happens when the well is starting to run dry: I start playing and coming up with variations that may or may not have been in actual use.

I write "Roslynn."

Roz-lynn. I like it. Looks fine on the page. Not obviously modern. But where have I heard it before???

"She's the president on Battlestar Galactica," Daughter points out.

Hmmmm, says the ever-eloquent I. Also, duh.

That doesn't rule it out completely, but does give me pause.

Now that I've thought about it more, I like the president. She's a tough cookie. So Roslynn it will be... at least for now.


Bonnie Ferguson said...

I think Roslynn sounds lovely :)

trish said...

"And this one -- Molde. Gooey-cock and Molde, ye olde STDs."

that one gave me a laugh :)

Margaret Moore said...

Thanks, Bonnie!

I confess we were giggling giddily. And of course, we pronounced it as "ye old-ee STDs." :-)

Christine said...