Character Names–too much of a good thing

Once upon a time, I had two novels running parallel to each other.  The general premise was the same–in a dystopian kind of way.  The MC’s ages almost identical.  In one, the MC found herself part of a clone project.  The other MC a victim of personality testing that would force her into an unwanted future. 

When I hit that “and now what” moment with the second MC, I realized she was the other MC’s sister.  The one I hadn’t yet met, but knew was an integral part of the first story.  So far, the marriage between the two ideas has been seamless.

Except the names.

I like unique character names, and I’m sucker for fun girl names in particular.  This meant that I had four wonderfully unique names for my characters–two male and two female.  When I put them together, it became apparent that I the parents of these kids had lost their ever-lovin’ minds.  The combination–which had worked well singularly–was suddenly bizarre.

A little like my family tree.  While doing DD’s project, she wondered we hadn’t named her after anyone like we had with the boys.  When I ran down the choices (Florence, Dovie, Vinie, Myrna, Elvira, Pearl and–way way back–Sindervilla) she understood.   Sometimes a normal name is the unique name.

Same with naming our characters.  When we try to cram too many unique names into one manuscript, it becomes cumbersome and distracting. 

I have since taken my young MC’s to court and petitioned for a name change.  While I lament the loss of some pretty cool names, it had to be done.

How about you?  Do you find yourself drawn to traditional names or unique names with funky spellings?  Do you do this across gender or are you more girl-centric with offbeat names?  What’s the most bizarre name you’ve come across in your life?


12 responses to “Character Names–too much of a good thing

  1. Sometimes the names for my characters seem to “present themselves,” almost as if they truly exist in some parallel universe. But in my current work, I’ve really had to work to come up with the names.

    And then I realized that several of my characters’ names began with the letter “M.” I’m not sure how that happened, but I couldn’t change the first character and her daughter, as they were characters in a previous novel. So now I think I must change the names of the other set. But I really liked the names!

    I prefer names that are a bit different, but not too much so. I think the most bizarre names I’ve found are the “normal” names with out-there spelling. I can’t think of an example right now, though.

    I like the “petitioning the court” for a name change…funny! LOL

    • It’s nice when the names just present themselves, as you so eloquently say. That’s what happens to mine 99% of the time–which makes changing them difficult because the seem to be a part of the character. It alsom means I never recycle them.

      I’ve never had the first letter problem, but imagine it would be very difficult to rename them. Not fun when you loved the ones you already had. Good luck with that!

      I don’t mind unique spellings to a certain degree. I’m only up for a one letter swap rather than a whole new spelling. Of course it depends on what I’m writing. A chapter book or picture book will only ever have traditional and traditionally spelled names. My middle graders are still normal names but with fun pairings–Abigail Bindle, for example. It’s my YA that gets more unique. Gemi- short for Gemini. Her name plays an integral part in the story.

      Thanks for weighing in. Note to self, unusual spellings…

  2. Sindervilla??? Wow – that’s awesome!

    My characters tend to have names that go with the times. In my steampunk I used Victorian baby names that were popular at the time and don’t seem too out of place for today’s audience.

    When I was pregnant with my first baby, my mom made a card full of ‘wonderful’ family names she hoped we wouldn’t pass along 🙂

    • Oh yes, you can use it if you ever write a period peice (1500’s). They called her Lucinda. And as an FYI, her last name was Edge–probably because at some point her family lived on the edge of something. I love the history, however, wouldn’t name my kid after her!

      I love the period names. Their uniqueness to our ears is what makes them so fun and cool. I’m sure your characters have beautiful names that match their personalities.

      Did you pass any of the offending names along?

  3. I get mildly amused when I come across any name spelled in a “unique” way, in stories or in real life. I can remember a Dear Abby column from years ago where some teachers wrote in, begging for parents to stop the madness. I guess some of these “uniquely” spelled names the teachers would come across, if pronounced the way they were spelled, would sound awful. Then the parents would insist upon an incorrect pronounciation of their kid’s misspelled name.

    Really, if I spelled my name “Khrysteennah,” wouldn’t you laugh too?

    • Oh yes, the unique spellings. I love your Khrysteennah example and will forever think of you with a captial K! They can be extremely amusing.

      If I ever go in for the unique spelling, I will only swap out one letter, rather than make up a whole new alphabet to accomodate my whimsy. I do have a Sabryna–and that’s as far as I’ve gotten. But I waffle on it and write it both ways, traditional and unique every other chapter to see which one I like best over all. I’ll replace the nixed one upon completion.

      One more for unique spellings…

  4. Oy, names are so hard when your story’s set in a country where every word has at least four different meanings, depending on how you say it. (For instance “ma” in Mandarin can mean mother, horse, + a few other meanings.) So if you want to name someone Hu Xiongli, you might want to check on the various meanings before you use it. Who knows, you might be naming your villain something hysterically funny. Not good. Also, it needs to be something Western readers can do. Gotta warn you, Westerners tend to trip over “strange” names and we also tend to find them difficult to keep track of. The stranger, the harder it is, though if the strange name is linked to a trait, that helps. But yes, naming is hard. I’ve changed almost every single name in my ms – from minor to major characters, place names, you name it.

    • It can be difficult enough to find the right name in English. A second language would be extremely hard. Especially as you’ve stated with the multiple meanings. I guess I didn’t know that about the Mandarin language and am now very intrigued to reread a novel I finished last year just to track down the multiple layers of their names.

      I would assume as you write and the characters develop their own personalities with their unique quirks it might change the nuances of their names. Very interesting indeed.

      I always love hearing back from you and your wonderful perspective about everything.

  5. I try to go for names that are distinctive, but not overly so. So I avoid names like Jessica or Brian or Shaun, as I’ve run into a lot of people with those names. I try to find names like Hal or Tara or Miles–different, but not too exceptional.

    Also, I strongly recommend checking out the website “Behind The Name,” which does the etymology and history for both first names and surnames. It’s a great resource for when you want to find a name that will fit a particular culture or period.

    • Thanks for a great resource. And thanks for stopping in with a comment. I will definitely look up the names of my MCs and see what kind of historical or cultural significance they may have.

      Going off your list, I’ve avoided Shawn, Shaun, Sean like the plague. Also the whole Stephen/Steven conundrum. Like you, I go for normal, but not exceptional–for the most part.

  6. Okay, so . . . here I have to share with you one of my forays in to the world of side-splitting snark.

    Unkind? Perhaps. Hilarious? Definitely.

    You can thank me later.

    • Okay, I darn near wet myself–and I only watched one of the parts. That was hilarious to say the least. I’ll definitely break this link out again when I’m feeling a little down.

      I actually had tears streaming down my cheeks like a…well…a River! Too funny.

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