What’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?