Saturday night was the Tables of Content event at Southern Methodist University, where I was one of the “Top 10 Haute Young Authors” featured. I fielded so many interesting questions from the guests at the event — about my books, about my background, about my writing process.
I get this question often at readings, and one person asked me Saturday, too: How do you name characters?
The process is a little bit science and, I think, a little bit magic. When you hit on the right name, you just know it.
I want to make sure the name I’m choosing is appropriate for the age and social class of the character. (It drives me crazy when a book has, for instance, a Caitlin born long before anyone was naming girls Caitlin.) The Social Security Administration has a website that lets you check the popularity of a name by year. I use that a lot.
The names of male characters always seem to come much more easily to me. It took me about 2 seconds to name the boyfriend in Identity Brian. He was born in the early ’60s, and Brian just seemed like the right name. Right from the start of the writing process, Julien was the name I had in mind for the main male character in Not in Time.
I named the protagonist of Identity in a Starbucks parking lot. I’d been toying with the name Darla, but it didn’t seem quite right. Then suddenly it came to me. “Oh, her name is Sharla,” I said out loud. Fortunately, my husband is used to these kinds of outbursts and knew exactly what I was talking about. He added “With an h on the end, because her mother thought that was a classy touch.” So there you have it. Sharlah.
In the first draft of Not in Time, the protagonist was named Liesl. It seems so wrong now! I had this whole back story about how her father picked the name because he liked The Sound of Music. I wanted her to have a name that was a little old-fashioned, a little out-of-step for the time and place when she was born. After the first draft was done and I got feedback from beta readers, I realized she needed a new name.
When I was a kid, I loved looking at my parents’ high school yearbooks. The most glamorous girl in the Waterford Township, Michigan, class of 1957 — my dad’s school — was named Genevieve. Once I’d settled on Genevieve, it seemed perfect. It was old-fashioned and it was French.
And, as it turns out, Genevieve is the patron saint of Paris.
- What’s on my shelf now?
- Looted Art on Screen: Woman in Gold