Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Learning Curve of the New Author: What's in a name?

The Pink Heart Society editor Scarlet Wilson is back for more of her Learning Curve column.  This time...What's in a Name?

For those of you who don't already know I'm a bit sad.  I don't mean sad in the downwards smile sort of way.  I mean sad in the geek kind of way.  I'm the girl that loves data and everything about it.

So now that's out of the way  I should tell you that for the last few years, every time I've read a series romance I've kept notes.  I won't tell you all the notes I've kept - that's for another day.  But one of the types of information I've kept is a excel spreadsheet of names.  Yes - that's right, I put them in a spreadsheet! 

Now, what I'm sure you'll already know is that sometimes you come across the strangest names in series romance.  Some that you've never even heard of.

I don't know about you but if I come across a name in a story that I can't even say out loud it kind of throws me out the story.  It interrupts the flow so to speak - never a good thing. 

Then there's the school bully.  If I come across their name in a story it doesn't matter how fabulous a hero/heroine they are I'm just never going to warm to them.

This all became important to me when I got my second set of comments back from the New Writers Scheme attached to the RNA.  The New Writers Scheme allows an unpublished writer to send in a full manuscript and get comments back from a published writer with comments about improvements.  This time, one of the comments I got was that the writer didn't like my heroine's name - Melissa.  It irked her.  And that intrigued me.

So what are the most popular names for guys?
Alex, Ben, Daniel, Ethan, Jack, James, Luke, Mac, Matt, Max and Nick.
But the runaway success? Jake.

And for girls?
Abbie/Abby, Annie, Beth, Ellie, Jenna, Kate, Lily, Madeline, Maggie and Zoe.
And the runaway success for girls? Sophie.

GULP!  So first things first.  I have to quantify what I read.  Romance/Cherish, Modern/Presents, Medicals, Superromance, American Romance with a few historicals thrown in.

Second thing?  CRINGE!  I've used some of these - Abbie and Luke featured in my second book The Boy Who Made Them Love Again.  Lily features in my fourth due out in September A Bond Between Strangers.

So it seems as if I've fell into the trap that other authors have.

What I also find interesting is that I used to work as a health visitor and visited all new babies eleven days after birth.  So I became use to name trends.  Some years some names were very popular and every second baby seemed to be called that.  These names tend to appears a year later in some series romance novels attached to a thirty year old hero or heroine and it makes me cringe.

But what I find most interesting is getting the right name for the right character.  When I started writing The Boy Who Made Them Love Again (I called it Pelican Cove, much nicer!) Abbie was originally called Rose.

But Rose didn't work.  After Chapter One the book started sticking.  Something didn't feel right.  So I rewrote chapter one with Abby.  And it worked perfectly.

I know it weird and irrational.  But I've heard the same from other writers.  And some of the names I've used I haven't even particularly liked - they're not the names I would have picked for my children.  But they've fitted the character and the stories.

So how do you feel about character names?  Any you love, any you hate?  Or any that have made you close a book completely?

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  1. Very interesting Scarlet! I cringed a little as my first two books had Dan, Sophie, Jake and Ella. Whoops! Fortunately my current book has none of those common names. Phew :)

    Your spreadsheet sounds fascinating! I'd love to know what else is in it.

  2. I had to email Trish Wylie about one of her character's names. She was called Roane, and literally every time I read her name I had the same internal debate about whether that should rhyme with Joan or Joanne. I just couldn't read the book.

  3. Hi Leah, I think we all fall into the trap at some point of using familiar names, whether we realise it or not. As for the spreadsheet, it's definitely in my geekville stage and I couldn't share certain aspects of it! Well, maybe another day!

  4. Hi ros, that's exactly what I mean, if I can't hear in my head how you would say the name it throws me out the story. I think I would say Roane like Joanne. What did you finally decide?

  5. Crapola, I've had a Jack, a Mac (actually Cormac but I guess it still counts!), a Luke and a Nick. Been slightly more adventurous with the girls and only had a Kate.. But sheesh, never good to know you're a foregone conclusion.

    Have had some fun though with names... with Isadora and Giovanni among them. Really wanted to call one of my heroines Daisy Rainbow (her mum was an old hippie) but ed nixed it. So I called her Daisy Dean instead and got a testy review from one reviewer because the alliteration drove her nuts!!! LOL. That'll teach me.

  6. Hi Scarlet:

    It seems to me that Mackenzie is a top name for both men and women.

    I don’t like a name that has a strong classical meaning and the author does not know it. If you are going to use Penelope, you need to know that she’s literature’s most faithful wife.

    I also don’t like major characters to have names that start with the same letter. It’s too hard to remember which attributes belong to Richard and which to Robert.

    Have mercy on your readers.
    At least think about them.

    BTW: If you have a character named Caesar and it’s March 15th, at least have someone mention “Beware the Ides of March”.


    P.S. To quote Ms Stein: "A Rose is a rose is a rose"...and not an Abby. :)

  7. Heidi - crapola exactly! That's exactly what I thought when I realised I'd used the most popular names. And I did it without thinking about it. The names just seemed to fit the characters and off I went. Never mind. I now have a litte list of what not to pick!

  8. Vince I absolutely adore your final quote it had me in stitches!