Monday, August 30, 2010

What's in a Name?

Happy Monday! Hope you all had a fabulous weekend. Today I have a treat for you. Barbara Monajem is my guest and she's talking about a subject we've had lots of fun with here on the blog--naming characters.

Let's hear what Barbara has to say about it, though I may pop in on occasion too.

One of the great pleasures of writing books is getting to name the characters. It’s like having an infinite number of children and being able to give them any names you like, no matter how old-fashioned or just plain weird. In Sunrise in a Garden of Love & Evil, the first book in the Bayou Gavotte series, I had a great time with names – a heroine called Ophelia who floats down a river with flowers in her hair, a hero named Gideon, and secondary characters with names like Constantine, Zelda, and Artemisia. (I particularly love the name Artemisia, but then I’m partial to plant and flower names.)

Me, too Barb. Did you know Artemisia was the name of my heroine in Distracting the Duchesss? And Daisy was in Vexing the Viscount. Flower names were very popular at one time.

Fast forward to the second book in the series, Tastes of Love and Evil, which was released last week. (This is one of the first ebook only releases from Dorchester. It's a great opportunity for you to download a free Kindle for your computer and try Barabara's newest story! For the purists out there, a trade paperback edition will be available in six months, but I predict you won't want to wait that long.)

I was a few chapters in when I realized I’d given the hero and heroine ordinary names – Jack and Rose. I’d seen those names a lot in other books and on TV. Was I drawing my names from the current collective unconscious? Could be – we’re all affected by what’s going on around us. The names suited my characters, but… sigh. I just couldn’t leave them at that.

Jack in particular. It’s a good name, but it’s usually a nickname for John, which is about as ordinary as you get in English men’s names. Fortunately, about the time I was writing the story, I’d seen a performance of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline at the Atlanta Shakespeare Tavern. It’s a wonderful theater, small and intimate. You sit so close to the stage that you can really see the players and sometimes even interact with them. In particular, I loved actor Drew Reeves’s rendering of the character of Iachimo.

Iachimo. Now there’s a different name! It could easily be shortened to Jack. So… voilĂ ! Jack’s mother named her son Iachimo after a performance of Cymbeline she just couldn’t forget.
I already knew Rose was my heroine’s second name, and that her first name began with the letter T. Maybe my subconscious was playing with “Rose Trelawny,” a name I always liked the sound of. I’d even named the file for the story “Tearose.” Now, Rose is an irresistible vampire, with a strong sex drive and a vampire’s volatile nature. I‘m not going to tell you what her first name is, but feel free to guess. I had fun with this one. :)

Theresa. Theodosia. Tabitha. Tilly. Tamara. Temperance. Thomasina. Stop me if I'm getting warm.

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about Ancient Rome, and I found some fabulous names there, such as Calpurnia, Claudia, and Livia. Rome had such sumptuous names! I already have plans for some of them.

Since I’m here to celebrate the release of my new book, here’s an excerpt from Tastes of Love and Evil. Jack, the hero (a sort of human chameleon, by the way, who can literally fade into the background), has just been shot by some bad guys, and although Rose doesn’t know him (she thinks of him as some random man), she’s given him her hotel room key so he can take refuge. But the bad guys are posing as feds, and they’re searching the hotel.

The room was empty.

No, it just appeared to be. “I told you there was no one here.”

Her nostrils quivering, every sense alert, Rose scanned the bed, the curtains, the embroidered mantle draped on a chair, the Elizabethan gown on the luggage cart. “Now get out of my room!”

The gunman ignored her, ducking in and out of the bathroom, glancing into the closet, going efficiently through every hiding place. Warmer, cried Rose’s senses, warmer, warmer, damn, oh God please no, as he shoved past the luggage cart to the window, and then as he returned, colder, warmer, colder, where the hell is the man? One-handed, the fake fed lifted the mattress and box spring, but no one was concealed underneath.

Sirens cried in the distance, and a second later the gunman’s phone squawked a warning. He left without looking back.

Rose retrieved her breakfast, double-locked the door, and scanned the room. Aha. She’d seen this phenomenon once before. She knew Random Man was in the room, somewhere near the window. “They’ve gone,” she said softly. “You can come out now. You need to have that wound tended.”

Nothing. Where was he?

“I brought coffee and doughnuts.” She put the food on the table. “I’d be happy to share, once we’ve patched you up.” Pause. “I know you’re here. I can hear you breathing.”


“I can smell you,” Rose said, her voice rising, tendrils of allure escaping. You and your blood. “I’m here to help, you fool!”

Still nothing. Or maybe…a faint shimmer, like heat rising in summer air, over on the luggage cart, right by the Elizabethan gown. Damn it, thought Rose. If he stains that costume… Anger coupled with the aroma of blood overwhelmed her senses, and her fangs slotted down. Purposely this time, she directed her allure toward the luggage cart. Another shimmer, instantly controlled, and then absolute stillness.

No more pussyfooting around. She smiled and sent a wave of allure crashing across the room. Random Man resolved into view, gold and tan and brown blending with the dress, then gradually reacquiring his own muted shape and colors, blue denims and Saints jacket, nondescript but definitely all there.

“God help me,” Random Man said. “Not another vamp.”

Back to names: What sort of names do you like? Popular? Old-fashioned? Invented? Foreign? Do you find unusual names distracting? Should names have meanings that suit the characters, or that have some symbolic meaning?

One lucky commenter will win a copy of Sunrise in a Garden of Love & Evil.

Thanks for being here today, Barb.

If you'd like to learn more about Barbara's Bayou series, please visit: And be sure to leave a comment or question for her for your chance to win Sunrise in a Garden of Good and Evil.


Linda Henderson said...

I enjoyed your excerpt very much. As far as names go, I'm not wild about old fashioned names. Or really unusual names that would be hard to pronounce. Sometimes I think a name that suits the character or has meaning is a good thing. And I don't mind popular names. And I do think that a really weird name is rather distracting. Now that I go back and read all this I sound rather picky and I'm really not. I just appreciate a good name in a story. Although if the story is good I can ignor a bad name.

Barbara Monajem said...

Hi, Linda. Sometimes I have a hard time if I can't figure out how to pronounce a name in a book I'm reading, because for the first little while I get stuck every time I come across it, thinking, "How do you say that?" Then, after a while, I can ignore it and get on with enjoying the story!

EmilyBryan said...

I understand what you mean. My mom HATED Artemesia in Distracting the Duchess because she'd never heard the name before. I'd have changed it, but the name fit the character soooo well.

Since I write historicals, I kind of have to use old-fashioned names. A Regency heroine named Taylor or Kayla would raise a few eyebrows.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your new release! It sounds wonderful! Names are something I love playing with, too. I need to change one of my characters from Tiffany to anything rich and snobby sounding that does not begin with a "T". Any ideas? :-)

Sherrie Hansen
Water Lily, August 2010

EmilyBryan said...

Sherrie--What time period?

How about Honoria for something 19th centurish?

If you're doing a contemporary, why not a spoof on Paris Hilton? How about Lisbon Gotrocks?

Karri Lyn Halley said...

I love naming my chacters and have several baby name books. One lists the 100 most popular names for different decades going back to the 1800's. I also use the social security baby name website. I frequently have a backstory for my characters' names that comes into play in the story.






EmilyBryan said...

Karri--That book with the 100 most popular names by decade sounds like a treasure. Guard it well.

I've used the SS site myself, but mostly for picking my pen names. LOL.

EmilyBryan said...

Jaclyn--The problem with using family names for my characters is that not all of them are nice---the characters, I mean!

Sandy said...

I don't care for names that I need to go to the dictionary to find out how to pronounce them.

However, if the story is good, I'll just pronounce the name anyway I want in my mind and keep going. Grin.

When I first started writing names were very important to me, and I spent way too much time dwelling over what to name a character. lol Now, I just come up with a name from the people I know.

Barbara Monajem said...

Hi, Sherrie! Great to see you here. Anything but T, huh? That sure leaves a lot of choices, LOL. Have you tried a book of baby names? Or Roman or Greek names?

Barbara Monajem said...

Karri - It's cool that you have backstory for the characters' names. It tells something about their parents and therefore something about who the characters are and why.:)

Barbara Monajem said...

Jaclyn - I took a look at the wedding vendors site. Wow! That's a great resource.

Barbara Monajem said...

Sandy - I'd be nervous about picking a name from someone I know. Ulp.

Often in sci fi there are some pretty strange names. I'm always impressed when an author invents names that are close enough to familiar names that they're easy to pronounce and remember, but have an otherworldly air about them.

Donnell Ann Bell said...

Barbara, what a fantastic excerpt. I love this story! As for names, you always come up with the best ones. Congratulations on your release. Regarding Names, I have Sherilyn Kenyon's Writer's Digest book of Names. It's an excellent source too.

Keena Kincaid said...

Fabulous excerpt, Barb. I've definitely adding Taste to my TBR pile.

As for names, I find myself going to the rolls of saints names for inspiration, as well as the Domesday book (I write 12th century medievals).

Karri Halley said...

Barbara-I've always enjoyed picking out the names and creating the backstory because it does help me to develop the characters. When it came time to name our daughter a couple of years ago, it was a lot of pressure, though!

Knicole said...

I would love the opportunity to name a whole bunch of people :). My brother's wife is pregnant and he asked me for my opinion on names. I really like some ordinary names. I feel that they are strong, so i love Jack and Rose.

Barbara Monajem said...

Donnell!! Thanks for stopping by. I didn't know about that book by Sherrilyn Kenyon. It sounds really useful. She has great character names in her stories.

Barbara Monajem said...

Keena - I love the idea of going through saints' names. And the Domesday Book - how cool is that? (And not easy to read, I assume.) I really like some Anglo-Saxon names. I'm thinking of writing a medieval short story with an Anglo-Saxon heroine, but I'm having a hard time finding a name that I like that I think readers will like, too.

Barbara Monajem said...

Karri - Yes, naming real people is a lot more perilous, LOL.

Barbara Monajem said...

Knicole - Jack and Rose are good, strong names, aren't they? I guess that's why I kept them as well as giving them other names. Oh, and they're short and easy to type. :)

donnas said...

Sounds like a great book. Thanks for sharing. When it comes to names Im usually not too picky. I do like some old fashioned ones and some more modern names. But what tends to get on my nerves are when the common name has to be spelled in an odd way.

Barbara Bettis said...

Hi Barbara,

Your book sounds great. I don't have an ereader, but I'll be looking for the paperback in a few months.

I enjoyed the discusion on naming.
Writing in the medieval era, I find time-appropriate naming can be a chore. My last hero's name was, I thought, so simple--Giles. Boy I was wrong. My critique partners kept mispronouncing it. So we never really know.

Good luck with the e format.
Barb Bettis

Barbara Monajem said...

Donna - I know what you mean about odd spellings. It doesn't really bother me, but sometimes I wonder why people decide to change the spelling of a name.

Barbara Monajem said...

Barb - I have an under-the-bed Regency which needs major revisions, and the hero's name is Giles. It's one of my favorite names.

Thanks for the good wishes!

Nynke said...

Hi Barbara,
that was a cool excerpt! I also like Jack and Rose as names, and finding new takes on those names sounds like an interesting project :). I must say, when I first read 'Iachimo', I had a 'what's-with-the-creative-spelling' moment because it's probably a variant of the Italian 'Giacomo'. But I'm not going to argue with The Bard, of course, and I guess the charming backstory would mollify anyone - cool name!

Thinking of Anglo-Saxon names would be tough - the only Old-English women's name that comes to mind is 'AEthelflaed' - it was a queen's name so it must have been elegant, but it sounds so incredibly awkward!

Emily, I never realised Artemisia was a plant name - I just thought of the hunter goddess; fit her perfectly too :). And a regency heroine named Kayla - LOL!

Barbara Monajem said...

Nynke - Yep, even if we shorten AEthelflaed to Ethel, it just doesn't com across as romantic. And I guess the AEthel part of the name isn't necessarily feminine anyway, since there were lots of men's names beginning with Aethel. Then there are Eadburh and AElfgyfu. These ladies may have been princesses and queens, but... I just can't see their names in a romance unless they've been altered a little, like Godiva. Not that I have any brilliant ideas about how to alter them! IIRC, both Jo Beverley and Georgette Heyer had heroines with Anglo-Saxon names -- pretty ones.

Sheila Connolly said...

Loved the book--the last time I read it. Does that mean I have to get a Kindle now?

Since I write about historic places and use a lot of genealogy, I tend to pick names that are related to those places (not that I assume anyone is checking, but it makes me happy). I don't use family names for the villains, though.

I also spend a lot of time in cemeteries looking at older names--there's a local couple named Lurana and Branch that I'm fond of. We've lost so many of the good names, like Sophronia. Or Silence--can you imagine being named Silence?

(Also waving at Emily, who I saw recently!)

EmilyBryan said...

Silence. Sounds like a name that tells you more about the hopes of the parent than the child. ;-)

Waving back at you, Sheila.

Barbara Monajem said...

LOL. I'm not much of a talker, but I sure wouldn't want to be called Silence. I can imagine some pretty funny scenes with a woman of that name.

No, Sheila, you can get a Nook. Or some other kind of e-reader. So many options! I haven't made up my mind which one to get.

Believe me, Tastes has changed since you so kindly read it and told me how many threads I needed to tie together. You are in the acknowledgments!

Mary Marvella said...

Hey, Barbara. Interesting blog.
My characters tell me their names and then all about themselves. When I try to change their names, they almost always put up a fight or sulk.

I seldom argue with them.

Barbara Monajem said...

Hi, Mary. Sounds like you have some strong characters there, but I can't believe you would give in to someone who sulks. Not the Mary I know!

AmySandas said...

I love naming my characters. Some are every cooperative and seem to always know what they must be called. Others can be much more mysterious. I don't think I have much of a preference for any particular type. As others have said in previous comments, the name simply has to fit the character. One of my heroines is named Anna, another is Lily. There is also Eurynome(Rynnie to her sisters... Galatea & Polyxena). My heros go by Aaron, Jude, Stone, Ashe... the list goes on.
I also find myself strangely compelled to give them all middle names, even if they are never mentioned in the story. It helps me to know them just that much better.