Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Name Game


by Denise Swanson

I’ve always been fascinate with names—maybe because I always hated my first name. Granted, Denise is better than my parents’ first thought, which was to name me Ernestina after my father. But I would have much preferred a more elegant name like Kathryn or Laura—which were my grandmothers’ names.

As a teenager, I used to write down the names of characters from books that I read. I had a system where I would group the names under heroes, heroines, and villains. I still have those index cards and find that my taste has changed a bit, but not too much. I also collected baby-naming books. When my mother first discovered my cache of these books, she was convinced I was pregnant—and since I was thirteen at the time, she nearly had a heart attack.

I continued to buy baby-naming books, finally having a legitimate reason once I started writing. Two of my favorites are Beyond Jennifer and Jason and The Baby Name Personality Survey. But I like the traditional ones, as well.

One of the best parts of starting to write a new book is picking out the characters names. Until I find the right name for a character, he or she doesn’t come alive to me. And even though names are important to me, I really goofed in my first book, Murder of a Small-Town Honey. If I’d had any idea that Wally was going to become a love interest for Skye, I would have chosen another name. Like the Johnny Cash song goes—Blake or Caleb or Max—anything but Wally. The worst part about choosing Wally is that I went to kindergarten with a Wally and everyone is now convinced I was secretly in love with him. Geesh!

Another lesson I learned from early books is that like clothes, names go in and out of fashion, and it’s important to give your characters names that are appropriate for their ages. For instance, most Debbies, Nancys, Barbaras, and Denises are from the Baby Boomer generation. I’ve made a few goofs in this area, as well.

Still, I love names. And in writing my newest book, Murder of a Royal Pain, which debuts April 7 (hint, hint), the character’s name are a much better fit.

-Denise