Tuesday, June 07, 2011

What's in a Name?

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

As writers, we’re given the opportunity to breathe life into new and exciting things—memorable characters, places, objects, and creatures that eventually take on lives of their own. Awesome, right? There’s only one little problem. We’re only allotted a single word (or phrase) to give our readers that first, lasting impression. 

What’s in a name?


I methodically pick my way through baby websites and census (surname) listings, reading each entry aloud.  A little taste test, if you will. (Try: 20,000 Names)


I go through maps and large directories, looking for inspiration. If nothing strikes me, I start cramming words together—e.g. my fictitious town of Clayhaven was named after its rich clay deposits.

Paranormal Races, Artifacts, etc.

This is the frustrating part. I spend hours poring over roots, stems, and affixes in a desperate attempt to create something clever. Is it original? Distinct? Catchy? Plausible? As soon as I come up with something I like, I “Google” it. Is it already in existence? If it is, how closely related is the subject matter? 


Once that’s done, I let it pass through the friend gauntlet. (You know, where most of my words go to die. -_-) 

“It seems familiar, but I’m not sure why...”

“It sounds kinda dinasaury.”

“Is that a brand of shampoo or am I thinking of something else?”

It’s disheartening, but it’s one of those necessary evils. Sometimes it’s hard for me to look at the fruits of my labor objectively and I need that outside feedback. Other times, I say, “Screw it. What do they know?” and keep at it. Either way, I know I have to look at it from multiple angles.

When John Lindley named the orchid, do you think his friends laughed at him for using the Greek orkhis? (Meaning: testicle.) It still worked out pretty well for him, don’t you think? It’s all a matter of perception.

How do you go about naming things in your books? : )


Steven W said...

I like your suggestions. I'm going to use some.

I used to stress over names like nothing else (especially ethnic names or names for specific genders). To give you an example, I needed a Turkish name for one of my books. It drove me nuts because I wasn't sure if I had one that worked (was believable). Then I had an epiphany. I searched news articles written by Turkish reporters and mixed and matched first and last names. I do that for every ethnicity now. And for random names that work in generality, I watch the credits at the end of movies. I always pull a dozen or so interesting names from there.

Carrie Butler said...

Thanks, Steven! I’ll definitely add those to my arsenal of naming methods. High five for collaborative benefit! :)

Dee Fox said...

But it IS a shampoo!! I'm sorry!! lol

Carrie Butler said...

C'mon, Dee! I was protecting your identity. Haha ;)

JeffO said...

Funny thing, I've been mentally developing a post for my blog about my difficulty with naming. My issues are more of naming the freakin' book or story, however.

Carrie Butler said...

Ugh! Naming a book is worse. Though, I suppose we can take some comfort in the fact that (should we land publishing deals) the name will probably be changed anyway. ;)

Patrick said...

Why am I not getting my update e-mails?! I am behind!

I didn't realize there was so much to picking a name.

"Once that’s done, I let it pass through the friend gauntlet. (You know, where most of my words go to die. -_-)"

And lots of trials!

That in itself is an art form. I wish I was more creative in this field, I just use common names.

Great post!

Anonymous said...

Great post! I wasn´t aware either that naming would be so dificult! thanks for the tips!!
Thank you pal!
deneb reporting!

Carrie Butler said...

@Deneb - You're quite welcome! It's great to have you here!

@Patrick - Thank you! :)

Sally said...

I hate naming things...People, places, everything! Stories themselves. From beginning to end, I struggle with the names most of all. I have known myself to sit down, ready for some serious writing, pencil in hand then...One minute, two minutes, five minutes, ten, twenty...Nothing, I'm stuck mentally browsing through possible names!

Eventually I get frustrated, think 'I'll get back to it once I've thought of a name' and there goes the story xD

Carrie Butler said...

Aw, man. That's painful, Sally. Getting caught on one detail is so frustrating. It brings your whole process to a screeching hault. Let me know if you ever need help brainstorming. :)