Sirenz Back in Fashion
by Charlotte Bennardo & Natalie Zaman
Expected Release Date: June 1st, 2012
Do writers name their characters after people they actually know—friends, relatives… potential targets of vengeance? Some do, and some don’t.
Cynthia Leitich Smith (Tantalize Series, Diabolical) does. “Yes, I’ve used a handful of family and friends’ names. In my first book, Jingle Dancer, “Cousin Elizabeth,” “Great Aunt Sis,” and “Mrs. Scott” were all named after family members.
While Jay Asher (Th1rteen R3asons Why, The Future of Us), Medeia Sharif (Bestest. Ramadan. Ever.), Amalie Howard (Bloodspell), and Shannon Delaney (13 To Life Series), Lia Habel (Dearly Departed) and Jon Skovron (Misfits, Struts and Frets, Manmade Boy) all avoid it. “No, it would feel too weird, I’m writing fiction, not a memoir,” says Sharif. Howard adds, “No, I totally make them up. I like my names to be unique but relatable.” Delaney feels that “I don’t want anyone to think they know who influenced the personality of which character. Skovron feels that people are “already reading into everything to see if they’re ‘in there.’” Also, he adds, there ‘is a danger, when choosing a name loaded with meaning that you might not be able to see the character clearly.” He cites naming a character after a son, could you kill that character off? Habel, too, says no. “I’m deathly afraid of insulting anyone [if character is dealing with same issues as a person.]”
But even if you sometimes use the names of family and friends for main characters, you need others. How do these authors choose names? “I choose names based on their sound for where they appear in the manuscript,” says Asher, “and next to other names in the scene. I check the baby names on the Social Security Administration website for the year that my character was born. At least a few of my characters need names that appear in the top twenty in order for the book to sound realistic.”
Sharif likes to “peruse baby name websites. I always go to those first and usually don’t have to look elsewhere.” Says Howard, “…Most times, it’s a version of a name someone already knows…especially the shortened, non-popular form of Victoria—Tori.” For her novels, Delaney says “Mostly I use sites like www.Behind The Names.com to come up with names—especially since my characters names usually have a meaning that hints at their true self or the plot.” And Smith, who’s always searching for names, says “I make a note of them when I meet waiters, young readers, anybody. In framing out a cast, I try to vary by number of syllables, first and last letters, and dominant vowels—to make them easier for my readers to keep track of.” Habel says that “Names generally come to me quite randomly on the fly and later I find out that they’re perfect.” Like others, she looks at the meanings of the names, links to biblical, mythological or even literary references besides the actual meanings of the names. Neither does Skovron have what he calls a “strict method,” but has used biblical monikers. Dagon, Astarte and Belial are names and characters “lifted directly from mythology” and he’s put his own spin on.
How do we pick our characters’ names?
Char: In Sirenz Back In Fashion, I named my character Sharisse’s grandmother after my own, Estelle. It’s done in a complimentary way, and my grandmother approved before the book was printed, so that worked out.
And feeling mischievous, I gave Sharisse my maiden name, Johnson. Sharisse was chosen because I wanted a ‘fluffy, girly’ name that wasn’t Heather, or Tiffany. Funny thing is, I had a friend with a horse named Cherie, and I always thought I would have named the horse ‘Sharisse’ (or Cherise) for a little more flair.
In other novels, I’ve used the first names of my mother, sister, and sons. I generally avoid using the names of friends because a) if they don’t like one thing about the character, it could cause problems; b) do one, and all my friends will be wanting a character to have their name and it’s bad enough with the relatives; c) they have names I hear all the time, so I want something different; and finally, d) if I use their names, I associate their characteristics—unintentionally—to my character. My character has to be free to tell me what they’re like, and that includes what their name is.
Nat: Char will tell you that I’ve driven her and the rest of our critique group insane with my character name changing. Sometimes a name will just stick, other times it takes a while for it to come out. My current works in progress are somewhat historical, so I’ll dig into my history books and hit up period websites for name ideas. Graveyards are also interesting places to find names.
For Sirenz, Meg’s name was based in two people—well, one person and one… character. Meg was named for Meg White of the White Stripes. Her real name is Megan Martha White, and in my brain, which is often muddled, I condensed Megan Martha to Margaret. I know, crazy. Her last name, Wiley, is for Wile. E. Coyote, my favorite cartoon character. He and Meg share a kind of underdog determination, but she never gets pianos dropped on her head (she and Shar have bigger problems!).
And I maintain the opinion that Char named Shar after herself > : )
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