NANP: Names Are Fun
Posted by Abhinav Jain
Joining me for the third installment of the Names: A New Perspective guest post series is author Kim Curran who sold her first novel earlier this year, an SF novel called Shift to Angry Robot Books’ brand-new Young Adult imprint Strange Chemistry. Shift was also Strange Chemistry’s one of two launch titles along with Gwenda Bond’s debut Blackwood last month. Shift has an awesome premise and I’m looking forward to getting around to reading it soon. I’ve had a good experience with the two Strange Chemistry title I’ve read already and I’ve got a third one on my list, Jonathan L. Howard’s Katya’s World. Let’s see what Kim has to say about picking names for her novel.
by Kim Curran
As I mostly write near-future / alternative present sci-fi and urban fantasy, I don’t tend to go in for fantastical names. This is because I want the setting to feel as real as possible, so that the reader will stick with me when I start to take them on more unbelievable adventures. There’s a trend in Young Adult books for the characters to have unusual, even unheard of names. But that doesn’t work for me. Mostly, I pick names that sound like someone you might meet at school, or bump into in the street.
I have two ways of picking names.
1) The Utterly Random
I steal names from park benches, monuments and even from gravestones. I’ve also grabbed names from my spam folder and from the credits of films. I scribble them down in notebooks and keep them till I need them.
2) The Petty Revenge
It’s very sad to admit it, but it’s true. If I have a beef with someone, even from way back, like some kid who tripped me up when I was 9, I’ll name a character after them. Not directly (I don’t want to get sued), but I’ll incorporate an aspect of their name into the naming of a character. And then I’ll make them the bad guy, or have lots of horrible things happen to them, and then laugh and laugh. Yes, I know. I need help.
Names are powerful things. They set the tone and the mood of the book. Take the main character in my debut novel Shift. Scott Tyler. He’s your average kid. So he needed an average name. And have you ever met a Scott you didn’t like? I haven’t.
And the mysterious girl who leads him into trouble? I called her Aubrey Jones. I saw the name Aubrey on a building and jotted it down in a notebook. Aubrey is traditionally a man’s name in the UK – my copy editor even mailed to check if I was aware of this – while it’s much more common for girls in the US. I liked the gender ambiguity of it, because Aubrey is far from your typical girl.
Names come with baggage, so I try and avoid ones that have been over used. I won’t be calling anyone Bella or Edward. But often, that baggage is subjective to the reader and can’t be avoided. Someone on io9.com commented that Aubrey didn’t sound like a beautiful and mysterious girl, but rather like someone who used to beat him up in gym class. I’m sorry he was beaten up in gym class. But there’s nothing I can do about that. I’ve never met or known anyone called Aubrey, so for me, it was an untainted name.
Names can also be a burden. And it can be fun to play with that. In the book I’m currently working on, I have called my main character Petri, named as such because she’s a test tube baby (named after her father a Petri Dish). It’s a terrible joke by her mother who makes everything into a political statement, even the naming of her child. So Petri has to live with knowing her name is a joke. And that hopefully creates empathy in the reader.
Names reveal a huge amount about a character. A girl called Gypsy Knight, who is quiet and plain, tells you a lot about her family and parental expectations. A character with the same name who is wild and untamed suggest that maybe she gave herself the name. Or is a living example of an aptronym (which is a word I’ve only just learned!).
But just like ourselves, characters don’t choose their names. So as a writer, I have to choose carefully for them.
The next contributor to the series is friend and author Teresa Frohock on 8th October. You can find a full schedule of here.
Posted on October 1, 2012, in Debut Authors Guest Series, Guest Posts and tagged Angry Robot, Debut Authors, Debut Authors Guest Series, Kim Curran, Names, Names A New Perspective, Science Fiction, Shift, Shifter, Strange Chemistry, The meaning of Names, Young Adult. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.