Tuesday, November 12, 2013


What’s in a name?

 
I don’t have any special way of picking names for my characters. They’re random choices, a fixture I need so I can put my idea into the computer. I chose Emmy Lou, the character in “Just Like Em” because I liked the name. But typing a two word name was time consuming, so I reduced it to Em with the intention of doing a search later and changing Em to Emmy Lou. Well, my character balked. She liked Em and her ex-husband was the only one who used her full name, so I kept Em. Also, the hero called her “Auntie Em” after the aunt in The Wizard of Oz. At first it was a derogatory putdown because he couldn’t stand the brat who was destroying his love life. Eventually it became an endearment.

Did I start out with that idea? Absolutely not. 

We’re not supposed to use similar names in our stories that might confuse our readers. The hero’s thirteen-year-old daughter is Samantha and Em’s seven-year-old son is Sammy. Red flags! But throughout the book, Sammy wants to change his name because Sammy is a girl’s name. Heaven forbid that he should be stuck with the same name as a girl. Happily my editor agreed and the two names stayed in the book.

My own, name Marion, has had a few problems. Marion is actually the male equivalent of Marian and half the time people write my name with an “a” instead of an “o.” Did you know John Wayne’s first name was Marion? He didn’t like it and took the nickname Duke. I have a male friend with my name, and he also uses a nickname. In fact, it’s only recently that I even learned we shared the same name.

Then there’s my married name, Ekholm. It’s Swedish. The German equivalent contains a “c,” and I have to constantly check my name to be sure it’s spelled correctly, especially on legal documents.

You’d think with all these problems I’d take a pseudonym, maybe even use my maiden name. No way. Can you imagine all the problems I’d have with Suess? That too is a German name meaning sweet. And it is not spelled the same as Dr. Seuss. My father was adamant about pronouncing it “cease” and my brother and I corrected people straight through my wedding day, when I could happily drop it. Everyone confused it with the famous writer and after my father’s death, my brother no longer corrected people.  

I’m fascinated with names. When I find someone with an unusual name or a spelling different from the norm, I ask how that came about. And the stories I get are wonderful ideas that I can use in another book.

How do you chose your character’s names? Are you happy with your own name or do you prefer a pseudonym?

24 comments:

  1. Hi, Marion! What an interesting post! I was born Muriel Shirley Charbonneau, was adopted by the Pachecos, so became Muriel Shirley Charbonneau Pacheco. I too, was happy to let it all go for the simpler Jensen. I own every baby-names book known to man. Sometimes a character arrives with a name - as though he or she was born with a tag attached. Sometimes I search and search for it and end up changing it halfway through the book because it just isn't right! But Marion - however it's spelled, always brings to mind Robin Hood, so that's a good thing. Have a wonderful day. Have you noticed that today is 11/12/13? Must be lucky.

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    1. Didn't notice the date, but I loved Robin Hood. When Disney made the "Story of Robin Hood in 1952, I had the comics from the newspaper on my wall. Loved Richard Todd for years. Marian in that story had an "a". Thanks for reading the blog.

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  2. Marion, great post. I need to have my character names "feel" right before I ever start a book. All my life I've loved making up names, and I like odd ones. When I travel I like to write down interesting names from phone books, especially in small towns. And I've been known to make a list of interesting names off head stones in old graveyards, too. I've always hated my name. My parents said it was supposed to have been Roslyn, and the birth certificate came back Rosaline with my middle name Dahline, so they left it. My oldest daughter is Kelly and I remember the day she came home from kindergarten and a boy in her class had his name spelled the same. Her teacher, bless her heart, told Kelly that girls should be Kelley or Kellie and she wanted immediately to change. Made for an interesting year. I haven't met many people who like their name, and I used to think kids shouldn't be named until they were old enough to pick what they wanted. Ha ha!
    Muriel, I love 11/12/13 I'm ready for the luck to begin.

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    1. My daughter, Sandra, hates her name and won't even answer to it. She has to be called Sandy. Of course when I wanted her attention I used my mother's voice and said, SANDRA JEAN. Thanks for your comments.

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  3. Naming characters is very difficult. I have a couple of sourcebooks, but I've had better luck staring out the window and waiting for the character to tell me their name. I will say I know a boy named Niv (pronounced Neev) and a woman my age named Bunny (yes, her given first name). But I do wonder how American Idol winner, Phillip Phillips got his name (I didn't watch the show, but it is memorable just for the alliteration). Thanks for the interesting post!

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    1. I've known a Thomas Thompson. Can't understand why anyone would do that to a child. Thanks for reading the blog.

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  4. Great post! I'm with Mel-I usually let the character tell me-eventually:)
    I like my real name and I really lucked out that it works great on the cover of my holiday titles:)

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    1. Your name, Snow, definitely fits with Christmas. I always felt Elizabeth Gunn, a mystery writer, had another perfect name for her novels. Thanks for giving a post.

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  5. I had always assumed (as a reader) the character, with name, came into an author's head first. But I guess it'd be like naming ones on children. I know my kid was there long before I decided on his name.

    Meanwhile, I must read Emmy Lou's story. Just added it to my list so I don't forget when it comes out!

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    1. Thanks for posting a reply. My parents took four days to find a name for me but I had my son and daughter named months before they were born. And I knew what you meant with "on."

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  6. *one's own - gah typos, a readers worst enemy. ;)

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  7. When I moved from Long Island to upstate New York, no one could pronounce my Italian last name. It was the bane of my existence until I moved away to college where, miraculously everyone could say it! Now I'm married to Greg Rock... there's not messing that last name up :) As for characters, I do think about how their names might have shaped them growing up, what kinds of parents they had that would have chosen that name, what kinds of nicknames or variations on the name they've had and so on... for example, in my next Heartwarming, His Hometown Girl, Jodi Lynn put her rural roots behind her and dropped the Lynn to become, simply Jodi. Yet when she returns home, her family and friends can't seem to remember to leave off the last part and keep calling her Jodi Lynn until she eventually starts to think of herself that way :)

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    1. I love the way our character can take over the story. It makes writing so much easier. Thanks for leaving a post.

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  8. I enjoyed your post...I always feel my characters pick their own names. I'm looking forward to the release of "Just like Em."

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    1. On a few occasions I've had my characters balk and demand a change. I particularly have a problem with anyone named Dan. I end up mixing it with Don and have to do a search to correct it. Thanks for dropping by.

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  9. The right name is crucial for your character. Can you imagine Rhett and Scarlett as Wilbur and Mabel? Great blog, Marion!

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    1. Shelley - true story that Margaret Mitchell's original ms. had the heroine named Molly. Scarlett was her editor's idea.

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    2. Thanks Shelley and Muriel for your comments. Shelley, as my critique partner, is always on me about using more modern names, something we discuss on a regular basis.

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  10. Great post! Naming characters is the worst. I hate it and usually end up changing everyone's name a couple times until something sticks. I sometimes blame working in a school. It made naming my children difficult as well. You'd be amazed at how many names sort of get ruined by kids who drive their teachers nuts!

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    1. I can understand that. Certain names of people I didn't like end up as my villains. Thanks for dropping by.

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  11. I always wind up with names that sound the same, especially in sequels. I start out thinking this heroine will wind up with that hero, and then the heroine goes and falls in love with someone else. I once taught a student whose parents had the same name. Cool, eh?

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    1. Thanks for your comments. Parents with the same name could be confusing but I know a Smith who married a Smith so she never had to change anything.

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  12. Names in life and in literature are critical! I still remember my mom telling me the story of her first day in school. The teacher was taking roll and my mom didn't hear her name. The teacher asked what her name was and she told her "Fran ". The teacher kindly told my mom that her real name was "Mary ". When my mom got home she told her parents that the teacher got her name wrong and was calling her Mary. Her parents explained that her full name was Mary Frances. My mom had never heard anyone call her Mary before that day in school. What are the odds that she would marry someone who also was called by their middle name? Yep, my dad! Maybe that's why they called both me and my brother by first, middle and last names when we were in trouble???

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    1. One of the math teachers I work with went by his middle name until he was in high school and learned he had a different first name. What a shock! I think that's why names always fascinated me. Everyone has a story. Thanks for coming by.

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