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A Rose by Any Other Name ...?

Clare and Chrissy Play the Name Game

Clare: Happy September everyone! Welcome to another festive edition of The Clare and Chrissy Show. The kids are back to school, the air is crisping with the first breath of Fall and Chrissy…*sigh* Where did she go this time? CHRISSY!

Chrissy: Hmmmm?

Clare: How's about putting that down and joining us?

Chrissy: Now?

Clare: It would be nice. We’re on.

Chrissy: Dang. Where does the time go?

Clare: You’ve been stuck on the store website for three hours now.

Chrissy: Sorry, sorry. I just can’t resist a good back to school sale. There’s something about seeing the new crop of office supplies. All that crisp paper, colored pens, and new designs of sticky notes. Oooh, and did you see the organizing binders? Makes me all kinds of tingly.

Clare: *rolls eyes* Perhaps we’ll touch on your tingly parts another day. For today we’re turning our focus to the bane of several authors we’ve chatted with. Namely, the fine art of naming our characters.

Chrissy: That’s always a toughie, and I’m not just talking about saying that three times fast.

Clare: Even if we are that gifted someone who avoids outlining like the plague and writes in a total freefall (those were the days ...), we simply cannot start putting words down on the page without knowing just who we are writing about.

Chrissy: Well, we can try, but it looks pretty odd to have XXX and YYY down in print rather than names. The trouble is, we invest so much into the names we choose. They can define our characters and communicate to our readers before they even start the first page.

Clare: So true. Did you ever try to change a name halfway through a story? Most disorientating.

Chrissy: And the effects can be horrifically wide-reaching. We may never know that our favorite character’s name actually belonged to someone’s ex-boyfriend, or the baggage associated with it.

Clare: And even if we did what could or should we do about it? Somehow, somewhere, someone is almost inevitably going to react unfavorably to our name choice.

Chrissy: So it’s full steam ahead and go with your gut. Or name, as the case may be.

Clare: Anyone who has read any of Chrissy’s work knows that she prefers character names that are simple and straightforward. A reflection of the men she writes about. As per the adorable Bruce/Brian/Bryce in Business Before Pleasure.

Chrissy: While Clare brings her more European flare to both the page and her characters. Note the sexy Alexsy *heh* in Just-You Eyes.

Clare: But despite our personal preferences, it’s the readers’ views that matter. And determines whether or not they will even pickup our books and take them home.

Chrissy: Sad but true. Show me a scifi or fantasy novel that has names all filled up with apostrophes and hyphens and it’ll never make my TBR list, no matter who wrote it.

Clare: Well, it does make my hackles rise before I've even started if I'm being asked to connect with someone called Xbrylmthynn i.e. whose name I couldn't pronounce aloud without the benefit of 4 margaritas.

Chrissy: *shrugs* Exactly. Just like everyone else, I only have limited time to read. I’m not going to pick up anything that pushes my immediately irritated button. We’ve all heard ourselves complain about characters too stupid to live and what a turn-off they are. It works the same way for names that are way too funky to read.

Clare: Hell's bells. I feel a whole new pressure about this naming thing. I even started a spreadsheet once, trying to remember which ones I'd "used up", and to try and prove that not ALL my alphas have to have a name beginning with M, D, R or T *lol*.

Chrissy: But despite feeling like choosing our names is like tiptoeing over a landmine, the difficult character name decision is actually one of the fun perks of writing a story.

Clare: More fun than making the characters dance to my capricious whim? Bwhahaha.

Chrissy: *cough* Clare and her God Complex strikes again *cough*. And we can use our naming powers for both good and evil.

Clare: We’ve all heard that old joke, don’t piss off the author – you might end up in their next book? Trust me, it’s hard to resist the impulse some days.

Chrissy: Of course, we know plenty of other ways authors come up with their character names rather than indulging in a fit of pique. They include scanning baby name websites, or talking to neighbors, and relatives. Some pay homage to their favorite television characters, and others utilize random name generators.

Clare: The blessings of the technological age. Of course, there’s also ex-coworkers who gave us a hard time. Ahem. Not that I’d know anything about that.

Chrissy: Hmmmmm. I’ve borrowed a few names from email spammers determined to desecrate my inbox.

Clare: Heh. There’s an idea for my next book! I have one fellow determined to enlarge my, well, parts I don’t have.

Chrissy: My favorite source for names are the programs handed out at school concerts or graduations that list all the students.

Clare: And I've been known to use the phone book, or players in the Premier League. But don’t some of the modern spellings make you want to burst out laughing? We’ve seen Danielle morph into Dany-L, Tristan reborn as Trystyn, or my recent favourite, Xian for Christian ...and I won't even raise eyebrows at the Pampers(c) "Most Visited Names" list which includes Lettice and Gaylord, for fear of offending *someone* with those names :).

Chrissy: They can be a real eye opener. But these are going to be the buyers of our books in several years.

Clare: We might as well learn to go with the times. *rocks my recliner*

Chrissy: Then there’s always the question of which came first? The name or the character?

Clare: I like that question. Sounds like my M/R/D issue again. Did we imbue our character with traits inherent in the name we chose…

Chrissy: …or did we choose a name based on the traits we already envisioned?

Clare: Such fun to consider.

Clare and Chrissy: How about our readers?
*Are there certain types of names that ensure you’ll never pick up a book? Or do you not even notice, and we are talking out our hats?
*Authors, what’s your favorite way to choose a character name?
*Which does come first? The name or the character?
*And finally, who else finds it hard to resist the allure of the back to school sales at their favorite office supply store?

Give us your thoughts and be entered into a random drawing to win some sparkly Clare and Chrissy Swag. Winner to be announced in our next monthly blog post.


August Winner: elin_gregory - Congratulations! Please send your mailing address to Clare at clarelondon11@yahoo.co.uk for your festive Clare and Chrissy Swag.

Missed any of our posts? Follow the 'sticky' post for these rambles of ours HERE.

Here's Chrissy! website // blog.

Here's Clare! website // blog.

Chrissy: Pssst, Clare?

Clare: What, Chrissy?

Chrissy: I didn't want to say this in front of everyone, but I found you an "Office Supplies Anonymous" T-shirt to wear to our next group meeting.

Clare: Oh, and it's such a pretty purple. I *love* it.

Chrissy: Now, come here and look at this display of colored ink pens. Did you see the dark green ones? They are to die for...




( 31 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 21st, 2011 05:23 pm (UTC)
My all-time worst character name experience was finding a m/m book where the hero had the same name (first AND last) as my 80-something father. Obviously, this is hardly the author's fault - but there was no way I was reading that book! ;)
Sep. 21st, 2011 07:59 pm (UTC)
OMG that's a classic! LOL. I've had to swear I'll never use ANY of the family's names in a book, not even as a minor character :).

Maybe this is why authors make up names?! I find the "created" ones a bit odd - but at least you don't meet someone with that name every day over family breakfast.
(no subject) - chrissymunder - Sep. 21st, 2011 08:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 21st, 2011 08:25 pm (UTC)
Squeeee! What a lovely surprise. Email shortly on it's way. :D

I'm not too bothered by 'names of people I know' appearing in books because the characters are usually so different. I WAS bothered when someone with my name, job, description, hobbies etc with a husband who bore a resemblance to my husband with a very similar and unusual hobby [how many classical guitar makers are there FCOL?] appeared in a book set locally and written by an author who swore he'd never met me.

When I write contemporary I pick names from a 1987 Civil Service Handbook I bought in Hay on Wye for 50p. It has over 80K names, even more if I mix and match. Or there are the handy name generator programmes. I dislike seeing obviously modern/wildly exotic names in historical settings so I go to primary sources for those and err on the side of caution. John may be a boring name but it fits just about anywhere.

But sometimes a story just demands names that are going to challenge the readers patience. I'm planning a novel based on the Gododdin, a 6th century Welsh elegaic poem that describes a situation like a cross between King Arthur and '300'. I'm really looking forward to writing it but if I do I'll have to use names like Cadfannan and Marchlew because they were there. :( All I can do is give my protagonists easier names like Cynfal and Gwydion and hope the [beta]readers put up with the rest.
Sep. 21st, 2011 08:36 pm (UTC)
Congratulations, Elin. And wow, what a freaky experience. Other than the author swearing he never met you, did you ever get any satisfaction as to how those amazing coincindences happened to come about? Any mutual friends you might pin the blaming finger o'doom upon? It makes the whole "not based on real persons or events" disclaimer a bit suspect.

Mixing and matching first and last names is a favorite hobby of mine. And in the case of your upcoming work - I would have less problems with those names because they were real names that were in use in the time. Not just an overuse of vowels, consonants, and apostrophes.
(no subject) - elin_gregory - Sep. 21st, 2011 08:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - clarelondon - Sep. 22nd, 2011 10:09 am (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 21st, 2011 09:05 pm (UTC)
Office supplies! *drool*


I find some characters turn up with names that I wouldn't dare change or they'd glare at me but others I have to look for. I use behind the name (website) a lot because if I have to choose I want a meaning behind it that's apt for the character. That site is especially good for surnames.

Once I have a name for a character, it doesn't matter how, I get the whole okay I'm screwed you want your story I'm going to have to write this now feeling and he/she starts to come to life in my head, often way before he makes it onto 'paper'.
Sep. 22nd, 2011 10:12 am (UTC)
Hurrah, another fan for the Office Supplies Fan Club :):).

Oh but yes, I *love* finding a name that fits the character and also means something apt! I trawl a lot of Latin and ancient Greek names for that. Thanks for the website tip!

I struggle most with surnames. There's plenty of scope, but I feel if I go too wacky, someone will wonder *why* Jones wasn't good enough for me, and the character has to live up to it LOL.

And often a full name pops happily into my mind, until I find I've made a subconscious association, and it's really the name of my local MP or supermarket or something...
(no subject) - anne_barwell - Sep. 22nd, 2011 08:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - chrissymunder - Sep. 22nd, 2011 12:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - anne_barwell - Sep. 22nd, 2011 08:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 21st, 2011 09:23 pm (UTC)
Names stump me pretty much every time. I have so many characters in WIPs who're called Dave or Steve... Even in my little tale for British Flash I got stuck for a while - one of the characters was supposed to be called Ed, short for Edward. He said he wasn't an Ed, but he quite fancied being a Teddy. I refused - Ted was my grandfather's name - and eventually we compromised on Terry...

I also get stuck because a lot of names which seem perfectly normal to me apparently cause non-welsh speakers issues: Nia, Rhian, Sian, Sioned (ok, so they're girls names, but how about Merfyn, Dafydd, Gwylim, Llewellyn, or even Sion?)

On the other hand, maybe we should be looking back to the '80s more for names - I remember my mum saying about teaching a class of youngsters where Kylie, Jason, Scott and Charlene were all sat at the same table...
Sep. 22nd, 2011 05:36 am (UTC)
I remembered another name that I decided probably would baffle most readers: Eifion.
(no subject) - clarelondon - Sep. 22nd, 2011 10:15 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - chrissymunder - Sep. 22nd, 2011 12:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 21st, 2011 09:48 pm (UTC)
Names are tricky, although your post has just inspired me to double-check the meaning of Hardeep. Now it seems to fit the character (or at least his role in the story) even more than before. The other two characters in that story are Doreen and Angela, and I'm having a lot of fun planning their respective class-based attitudes.

I like the name Taj (or Tajinder), but having just written a Tariq, I thought I ought to go for a name that didn't begin with T.
Sep. 22nd, 2011 10:17 am (UTC)
Ah yes, the class connection as well! I just had fun in my London Eye story with Oliver and Rupert on one side vs Des and Billy on the other *lol*.

I definitely think we're drawn to particular sounds/initials and have favourites. T is one of mine, too. But I think there are less options in male names than female overall. Maybe I chose the wrong genre!! LOL
(no subject) - chrissymunder - Sep. 22nd, 2011 01:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 22nd, 2011 12:16 am (UTC)
Are there certain types of names that ensure you’ll never pick up a book? Or do you not even notice, and we are talking out our hats? To be honest I don't really notice when I'm reading a blurb what the names are. I "presume" they are half-way normal, although I agree that lots of apostrophes and 20 letters with no vowels will turn me off. But even if the couple are something I don't care for, I probably won't care, although as Jamie noted, it would be hard to read about someone with the exact same name as my Dad "doing it". Eewwwww.

Oh the one thing that annoyed me once, was two names that were too similar. Read Lamont and Landon. I couldn't keep the two apart even though one was black and one white.

*Authors, what’s your favorite way to choose a character name? The most fun I had making up names for people and places was at a conference. I was coming up with kind of a medieval gay circus (must finish that some day) and there were a lot of Mexican delegates so I started taking their names and rearranging the letters to make new names. Not too weird, but different. I used common words too. Lives became Levvis (a place, not a person). But for normal names I've found looking at "most popular names" for the year the character was born is handy.

*Which does come first? The name or the character? No clue, the same time? LOL Name maybe since I rarely plan anything and just dive in.

*And finally, who else finds it hard to resist the allure of the back to school sales at their favorite office supply store? Noooo. I am so happy in high school all I have to buy is paper. Yay! Too many years of spending a fortune on new crayons, glue sticks and pencils, I'm quite happy to leave the back to school stuff to the masses with young kids.
Sep. 22nd, 2011 10:31 am (UTC)
I think the Dad's-name thing will stay in our minds for quite some time...

I love that idea of the anagrams :). And yes, one of the worst things for me is the same intial for two significant characters. It's generally accepted that the reader's mind can't differentiate well enough to make that work. It looks cute - and I was at achool with 4 children in the same family who had the same initial - but it doesn't work in fiction. And in RL, I just used to wonder how they'd cope with the post in later life, all going to Mr. J. XXX...

As a mother who used to run a large "craft" box full of coloured pens and shiny sweet wrappers and bits of cardboard that were going to be useful in a small child's school project one day ... I hear ya :).
(no subject) - chrissymunder - Sep. 22nd, 2011 01:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 22nd, 2011 05:57 pm (UTC)
always late to the party! but i meant to reply to this yesterday. haha~ because this post reminded me of what i used to do when i was an aspiring 'novelist' in elementary school! hahah!!

i had 4 envelopes filled with little slips of paper on which i wrote:
- boys' names
- girls' names
- unisex names / names that could be both first or last names
- last names

and then i'd just draw them randomly. hahaha.
Sep. 22nd, 2011 07:23 pm (UTC)
Hi samikitty, it's never too late for a comment. I like this - Ye olde random name generator!
(no subject) - samikitty - Sep. 22nd, 2011 09:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - clarelondon - Sep. 25th, 2011 08:58 am (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 23rd, 2011 02:32 am (UTC)
"Perhaps we’ll touch on your tingly parts another day."

*blink blink*

Somewhere I remember seeing a website that lists popular names by birth year, so you can properly locate your character's name in time. After all, it wouldn't do to call someone Wendy if she was born before Peter Pan was published, would it?

My only real name pet peeve when reading is when names are too similar, such as Matt and Mark or John and Joe, etc. I get confused easily. :)
Sep. 23rd, 2011 04:50 pm (UTC)

And what a post that will be!

What's funny is how easy it is to end with the two main characters having matching first letters without realizing it.
(no subject) - clarelondon - Sep. 25th, 2011 08:58 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 25th, 2011 09:00 am (UTC)
It reminds me of something I was told when I was pregnant and thinking of potential names. I was told to imagine standing in the supermarket and yelling "xxxx!" and how I'd feel if the name was too unusual or inapt :).

*happy with my latest office supplies and comnforted by likeminded friends*
(no subject) - chrissymunder - Sep. 26th, 2011 05:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
( 31 comments — Leave a comment )

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