Friday, October 15, 2010

Toot Your Horn Friday! What's in a name?

Killdeer from Nightshade City
Illustration by Omar Rayyan
It seems there are two camps when it comes to naming characters and books. One camp (my camp) loves it! The other camp can't stand making up names or titles.

For me, I think names are extremely important when it comes to my characters. I painstakingly pick each one out, some have a personal meaning (Vincent Nightshade, Vincent is my son's name), while others are purely for effect (if Killdeer doesn't sound evil to you, I don't know what does!). I think names are just as important as the world your characters exist in.

As for titles, I went back and forth briefly on what NIGHTSHADE CITY would be called. At one point, I really liked The Rats of Nightshade City or The Rats of Nightshade. My husband told me no way! He said Nightshade City has a lot more muscle to it and I should go with my first instinct. I think he was right... ;)

So, how about you? Do you think names are important? Do you think Harry Potter would have been as successful if he was Hank Putt? Would the Artemis Fowl series be such a hit if it were entitled Artie Feldstein? Would Redwall have wowed the world if it were called Cute Mice in an Abbey?

xoxo -- Hilary


  1. I think they're very important. I also struggle sometimes when I'm reading a story aloud to my boys when the name is different or hard to say. I'm reading Indian in the Cupboard right now, and although we're loving the book, "Omri" just isn't a name I'm used to saying or even seeing. I know it won't matter as far as the story goes, but when you're reading it aloud, it can affect you.

    With my first picture book, A New Job for Dilly, there's a little rat who loves sour pickles. Dilly just seemed like the perfect name for him.

  2. Great post, Hilary. Yes, I believe names are very important, but I am in the "hate making up names" club. Not only does my reader have to resonate, but I have to type that name many times in 80,000-ish words - it has to be something I can live with :-)

  3. hi miss hilary! for me names are just sooooo important. i cant like or not like a character if i dont like the name so much. im glad you didnt call your book rats of nightshade city cause mostly people dont like rats and that could be a real turn off. and killdeer you could know before you even meet him that hes a pretty ratty guy just from that name. sometimes a name takes a long time to get. for me its fun thinking up names for my characters. sometimes a name just pops into my head and i just know thats the one. that just happened in the book im writing now thats got a cool bird in it and the name fletch just popped into my head and now thats who he is. i hope you have a real nice weekend.
    ...smiles from lenny

  4. "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Some writer -- pretty decent at the craft, if memory serves me right -- once said that.

    Now, I don't know if I agree with the Great Bard of Stratford or not. I mean, if Willy Wonka was named Fred Thompson, I really don't think the same effect of a wildly eccentric confectionaire is conjured in the reader's mind.

    (Note: I mean no offense to any wildly eccentric confectionaires named Fred Thompson.)

    What I do know is that I hate coming up with character names. Titles? No problem there. But there is something about trying to create a believable, yet memorable name that frustrates me.

  5. I imagine that you enjoy naming your characters so much because you are so damn good at it. I'm about half way through NC right now and the wealth of creative, unique, but still meaningful names is amazing. Oard, Clover, Juniper, Mother Gallo, Billycan ... not to mention the clan names.


    Personally I struggle with it a little bit, but it gets easier once the story has developed more.

  6. It's interesting how authors arrive at their character's names. My names come to me first, like a little voice in my mind saying they want me to write their story.

    I know that sounds a little bit crazy, but right now I have 3 characters begging me to do NaNoMo, just to get their story out.

    So I signed up last night. We'll see what these characters have in mind for their story next month.

    Thanks for posting this name dilemma, Hilary. :)

  7. I'm with Matthew...You did a brilliant job nameing your characters...Noc, Ord, Billycan and one of my favorite characters...Killdeer. You have a gift (well you have many), my friend!

  8. I'm writing a fantasy set in Lithuania and want to be true to the culture, but some Slavic names are difficult to pronounce, and I'd hate to have to include a glossary.

  9. It's weird. Sometimes names come to me so fast and they're just perfect. Other times it pain, sweat and tears.

  10. Anonymous10/15/2010

    I LOVE Nightshade City!! You are very a very talented author. I love the names you picked out. I think my favorite name is Billycan. My brother's name is Billy, and the 'can' ending is unique.

    I also enjoy naming my characters. It helps the story feel more alive.

  11. I have the hardest time naming my villain I'm always afraid if I name a mean girl say "Kaitlin" that little girls with that name will feel bad when they read it.

  12. I agree with you Hilary. I recently wrote a twelve part series of children's stories about a baby honey bear and his two companions. Choosing their names was extremely important when it came to the target audience of 4 - 6 year olds. :)

  13. I agree with you Hilary. Harry Potter probably wouldn't have been the same. Titles of books are hard. I'm wondering if I should switch mine.

  14. Rena, I think Dilly is adorable! Love it!

    Dawn, I agree! I'm so glad word has the "replace all" function! I change names all the time!!!

    Lenny, I think you're totally right! My husband said the same thing about the title being a turn off to people who don't like rats! I like Fletch a lot, by the way!! ;)

    J.M, I think when writing fantasy we walk a fine line with names. Yes, it's our world, so we can make up whatever names we like, but if it's too "out there" it just won't work. I've had a few like that and they've always gotten changed!

    Matt, I'm sooooo glad you like the book AND the names! It was so much fun to create the names. I wanted them to be unique, but still have a classic feel.

    Hi Gayle, good luck with NaNo!!! Let your characters lead you--mine always do!

    Sharon, thank you! Billycan is my favorite--my baddy with a bad name! Love him! ;)

    Hi Kathryn, I agree with you totally. You don't want people to wonder how to pronounce a name. I've read books and fallen in love with characters reading their names wrong the whole time. Once I find out how the name is really pronounced, I lose a little connection with that character.

    Hi Louis, I'm the same way. Sometimes it'll take me days (or even weeks) to figure out a name for a character--even a side character. I just want to be sure I get it right!

    Jennifer, Billycan is my favorite too! A billycan is actually a tool used on the Australian outback. It's a can turned into a cooking pot! Don't know why, but it just worked. It sounded a little crazy, just like my Billycan! ;)

    Melissa, oh, don't worry! I think a lot of little girls would think it was great! We all want to be "bad" once in a while!

    Hi Jack, yes, for kids we have to get it just right. We want them to fall in love with our rats and bears! ;)

    Natalie, what's your title! I want to know now that you're being all mysterious about it!!! ;)

    xoxo -- Hilary

  15. Naming after friends or family members is always a good idea when you can get away w/ it!

    Titles aren't usually there for me -- they appear when I least expect them.

  16. Whenever I need a name, I end up spending hours on google. I once spent 3 hours trying to find the perfect name for a secondary character's horse - the name is mentioned once.

    PS, Hilary, I started Nightshade City the other day - any chance you might be at Prairie Writer's Day and willing to sign? :)

  17. Great post, Hilary. I'm still laughing at "Hank Putt." Snort!

    I love choosing names, but I end up changing them constantly. I'm with you -- so thankful for that "replace all" feature.

  18. Hi Hilary,

    For me, names are important if they lend to the story. I think the writing in Harry Potter was so good that even if he was Hank Putt, the series would still have been a hit. But characters like Remus Lupin and Sirius Black are aptly named, and their names gave insight into their personalities and traits.

    That said, I'm happy to have come across your site, and your book. As a big fan of the NIMH stories, anything with rats sounds like a fun read. Hoping my 12 y/o enjoys it, too!

  19. Hey Hilary- I just posted a review of Nightshade City. Five stars, baby! Okay, I don't really award stars, but I loved it.

  20. Anonymous10/22/2010

    Character names and titles are very important to me in the beginning of the wip. I rarely digress or change them. I see them as a perfect match to the story.

    Hank Putt has no ring to it, lol.

  21. Great post, Hilary, and I agree that you picked the best name. Book titles and character names do make a big difference in reading and identifying with the characters and what the book is about.


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