I know there are writers who put a lot of thought into naming their characters. Name origin, ethnic connotations, new and inventive spellings of old names – you name it (pun intended) it’s been done. And yes, there are some pretty cool ways to go about naming your characters.
But, I’m just not one of those writers.
I’m what I call an extreme pantster. I don’t do any planning or plotting, and there’s sure as hell no outlining in my world. I generally know what’s going to happen and how the story will end, but I don’t know how it will unfold.
I don’t even know my character’s names.
When I was writing this post I was reminded of a Neil Gaiman quote from Coraline:
“What’s your name,’ Coraline asked the cat. ‘Look, I’m Coraline. Okay?”
“Cats don’t have names,” it said.
“No?” said Coraline.
“No,” said the cat. “Now you people have names. That’s because you don’t know who you are. We know who we are, so we don’t need names.”
Not only is this a great example of how cheeky cats could be if they spoke English, but it’s also how I think of my characters before I need to assign them a jumble of pronounceable letters that we call a name. Who they are is what’s important, not what I’ll call them.
I generally think of them as Girl Character, Boy Character, Quirky Friend, Silly Pedestrian… whatever the situation calls for. This is how my brain accesses that character file right up to the point in the manuscript where common sense demands they have a name, at which time I have them tell me.
I stop for a beat, and say, “What’s your name?” And they tell me.
In the case of NOT A DROP TO DRINK I needed a name pretty quickly. I knew the first line of the book long before I started writing it — “Girl Character was nine the first time she killed to defend the pond.” But, that doesn’t quite have what it takes, does it?
So I asked, and she told me her name was Lynn.
I was like – “WOW! That’s a totally perfect name! Your mom would have picked a practical one-syllable name because she might have to yell for you in dangerous situations. She needed something quick, something that would carry in the wind. Yeah. That makes total sense. Your name is Lynn.”
How serendipitous was it that much later – as in, months – I looked up the meaning of her name and it’s derived from the Gaelic for pond or lake, and is usually used for someone who lives near water.
Um, yeah. She totally knew what she was doing.