Saturday, June 05, 2010

Wildcard Weekend: Fun with Town Names





Love Inspired Author Winnie Griggs investigates the whys and wherefores of naming towns.

I love to set the stories I write in small towns and rural communities. Having lived in small towns myself all my life, I know first hand the sense of community and family such a setting provides. In fact, the tag line I use on my website, Small Towns, Big Hearts, Amazing Grace, says it all.

And one of my favorite things to do when I’m starting a new book is to come up with a memorable name for the town it’ll be set in. Being from south Louisiana, my fascination with out-of-the-ordinary or intriguing town names goes back to my roots. My earliest childhood memories are from a period when we lived in a town called Westwego. My Dad hails from Dutchtown (which was actually settled by Germans - go figure) and my Mom is from Lockport. Surrounding towns had such colorful names as Pointe A La Hache, Crown Point, Belle Chasse, Tickfaw, Grosse Tete, Triumph, New Roads and Bogalusa. My husband was born and raised in a wonderful town called Plain Dealing, Louisiana and that’s where we have lived for most of our married life.

Yes ma’am, finding the right name for my town is as important to me as finding the right name for my characters. Come to think of it, my towns are characters in my books. I try to come up with something unique, something with personality, a name that’s maybe just a little bit quirky. It sometimes takes me weeks to find something that really resonates with me. And like getting the right names for my hero and heroine, I can’t move forward with the story until I’ve nailed it.

Town names I’ve used in some of my books in the past are Far Enough, Pepper Cloud, Whistling Oak, Turnabout Sweetgum and Knotty Pine. Each of those names were carefully selected to subtly paint a picture or evoke a feeling that I felt would add another layer to the overall story I wanted to tell.

For instance, take my current book, THE HEART’S SONG. This story was a departure for me in several ways. It is my very first contemporary and it is also the first book I’ve set in my home state of Louisiana. I’ve personally lived in both the SE corner of the state and the NW corner. These are two very different worlds - socially, philosophically, environmentally. So I chose to set this book in the central portion of the state, an area where the Cajun joi de vivre meets the small town cowboy culture. A community handbell choir plays a big part in this book as well.

I naturally wanted was to find a name that had a Louisiana ‘feel’ to it. But I also wanted something with a very subtle musical feel to it as well. For some reason, I thought of the word ‘timpani’ which refers to kettledrums in an orchestra. There is also the tympanic membrane in the ear that helps with our hearing. From that came Tippanyville, a made up name, from a made up word, that nevertheless (hopefully) conveys just the right feel for my small central Louisiana town.

So, do you pay very much attention to town names in book? Do they help set the tone for you at all? And are there real town names you’ve come across that have tickled your fancy, piqued your interest or just plain caught your eye?
You can learn more about Winnie Griggs' Small Town set, Big Hearted Books with Amazing Grace at her website.

6 comments:

  1. I love coming up with small town names. In my next three book a fictional east Texas town is my setting. I named the town Oak Stand based off a real town in Louisiana called Oak Grove. I noticed that on a review I received one of the commentors said something like maybe I got my younger brother to come up with the name. I thought it was a strange comment being that I based it off a real town name. I merely thought "what's another word I can use that's similar to grove?" Never thought about connotations or anything else.

    I love the names of your towns, Winnie.

    Liz Talley

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  2. Great post, Winnie. I did let my grandson name the town in my last book, and he picked a great one: Red Willow.

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  3. Hi Liz! Yes, I know right where Oak Grove LA is and I think Oak Stand is a great name for an East Texas town. And thanks for the thumbs up on my town names

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  4. Cheryl - what a great grandmother you are! And I agree he picked a good one with Red Willow!

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  5. My Smith grandparents live in Shongaloo, and he grew up in Cotton Valley mostly. I currently live in Ball. Not very imaginative though.

    Dutchtown was probably originally spelled Deustchtown. Deustch is the German word for Germany.

    The little Louisiana fact I like to tell people is how all the scrolled ironwork in the French Quarter is actually Spanish.

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  6. Hi Rachel. Yep on Dutchtown/Deustchtown - at least that's what I've heard. Another little known fact about LA is how large the German population is in the southern part. In fact, at one time St. Charles Parish was known as the German Coast.

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