Name Digging

Delberts_Weir_Cover_for_KindleWhat’s so important about a name?

How do we find names for our characters? How does Cash turn into Kash? Recently, a friend and fellow author borrowed my horse’s name Cash and flipped it to Kash for a recent character name she was searching for. I know I’ve borrowed our family name, Elizabeth, for my Heart Trilogy. Last week, while watching for and cheering on The Voice contestants, the name Barrett flashed on the screen. I quickly jotted it down on an old newspaper laying on our end table. Yes, I’ll be using this name for a future character.

So how do we find names for our terrified mail-order brides, quirky teenagers, bawling babies, spunky American Indians and the like? We borrow and dig for them. I keep sports rosters, graduations programs, phone books, name books, I Google what names mean while keeping all of my characters unique and unlike any live person, to my knowledge anyhow.

I’ve struggled with names for my work-in-progress. My main character is a member of the Colville Tribes so I wanted her and other character’s last names to be customary in honor of my husband and sons people just as Tony Hillerman has kept Yazzie and Nakai true to the Navajos, but without leading to specific people. So I pick the last name from family and friends, then make up first names and make sure there is no correlation to those who exist! Names like Toulou, Bradeen, Seymour and Marchand. The last names I’m using support and assist my main character, not harm them so as not to offend local families. I desire to bring them honor.

I’ve also invited readers to help name characters and horses. It becomes a fun online game. Readers are usually thrilled to assist. I love seeing their own creativity, especially with names for horses. And I always keep the lists, marking off the names I’ve chosen as I use them. One time I needed traditional native names for both boy and girl for a historical YA work-in-progress, and the list I received was inspiring to say the least: Autumn Breeze, Pretty Hawk, Red Autumn, Dancing Bear and Angry Cloud. These names will be in forthcoming books.

Once in a blue moon, the right name for the perfect character seems to pop into my mind right out of thin air. It makes my heart dance. Puts a smile on my face. Other times, I have to search and search to make the name fit the character. Erval to me is a serious man, not a clown, perhaps best fit for historical westerns. Chance a cowboy. Falling Rain an American Indian name which suggests a sweet woman. Gentle. Soft spoken. Rowland perhaps someone with a sense of humor.

There seems to be something magical in a name. Think about the old Perry Mason TV show. Perry means to spar as a layer does, and Mason meaning to build a solid foundation as a brick layer. Every lawyer needs a strong foundation to make a winning case. What are some of your favorite names, why, and what do they mean?



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7 Responses to Name Digging

  1. Arlita Schlecht December 15, 2015 at 7:40 am #

    Barrett is a family name too! My son’s full name is Nicholas Barrett Clark.

    • Carmen Peone December 16, 2015 at 3:04 am #

      Oh, that is so cool! I didn’t realize that was his middle name. I really like it, tough, handsome, debonair!

    • Carmen Peone December 21, 2015 at 5:28 pm #

      Arlia, I love that name. I had no idea! Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Andrea Downing December 14, 2015 at 11:43 pm #

    NAMES! I’m going through this at the moment with my WIP. Usually the characters ‘tell’ me what their name is. My current hero is Chay Ridgway. I wonder what you make of that? I decided on Chay as I wanted a ‘western’ sounding name but not the usual Jesse, Cole, Ty and so on. Chay seemed to fit the bill. Strangely though,the only other Chay I knew of was Chay Blyth, the yachtsman, so I looked him up. His partner was John Ridgway and bingo–Ridgway so fit the bill for a cowboy working out on the high plains.
    Interesting about Perry Mason. My father was a great fan of the books. I wish he’d known about the name.

    • Carmen Peone December 14, 2015 at 11:48 pm #

      Oh, I love how you found the names, Andi! That is clever. Chay, I’ve never heard the name before, but love it. Unique names are fun names. I made up my WIP’s name, Charnaye. I learned about the meaning of names and naming characters and Perry Mason at a writer’s conference in Spokane a few years ago. It was a terrific session.

  3. Mary E. Trimble December 14, 2015 at 5:05 pm #

    This is interesing, Carmen. I love the study of names, too. I try to keep the names I use pronounceable. I once read a Russian novel–or I should say tried to read it. I finally gave up because I just couldn’t keep track of those unpronounceable names. I like Jane Kirkpatrick’s “Cast of Characters” that she includes in her books.

    • Carmen Peone December 14, 2015 at 11:41 pm #

      Mary, I also like Jane’s cast of characters. Also, thank you for letting me know of the duplications, I still am not sure how that happened…it pasted three times! I know in my Heart Trilogy, most reader’s liked the Native American names, but some do have a hard time. I wrote the books that way for a purpose, that purpose is over, and now they have contemporary names, except for used Spupaleena and Pekam in Delbert’s Weir.

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