~TS Eliot, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats
Doesn’t matter if it’s a cat or a character, the name is all. Readers fall in love with characters and their names, sometimes going so far as to name their children after a favorite. I know this as fact because I named my daughter for the title character in William Shakespeare’s The Taming of The Shrew. In fact, the first words my seconds-old daughter heard her father speak were from that play, “Your name is Kate, I hear.”
Isabel in Cabin Fever was very willing to talk. She was named for a hurricane that had spun its way onshore the year or so previous. I saved that name until I was ready to tell her story and she was very cooperative in helping me along. So was Master Richard in Table for Four. I’d seen a drawing of a Dom and sub...don’t know the artist or the title of the drawing (but I do have it on my Yahoo newsgroup...if anyone could help me identify it, I’d be grateful!)...and as soon as I looked at the picture, I knew the character’s name and part of his story. And thus the story was told.
But mostly the characters are nowhere near so accommodating. Usually they are very recalcitrant or just plain stubborn, making me do all the work. In that case, I need to go looking for inspiration. And that’s where it gets interesting because the names come from all sorts of places.
Baby books are often a good source...both hard copy and online versions are useful in their own rights. I have a paperback that I bought long after my own children were named just so I had a resource for those stubborn characters. Adora from Table for Four came out of that book. I specifically wanted a name that denoted beauty (“Adora” means “adorable” in Italian) and yet had a foreign sound to it.
Last names are often found in the phone book. Just open and point. See what comes up and go from there. To be honest, I never use a name exactly out of a phone book, but I’ll take the first syllable of my first stab on the page and another syllable from a second stab somewhere else in the book. Combine them and you have a good name.
But I’ve recently discovered a new source of names...one underutilized by authors, I’m sure. For who wants to give credit to spam email for anything but trouble? No one...much easier to hit “delete” and ignore it entirely. Except you’re deleting an entire population of possible character names each time you erase them all. Let me give you some recent examples:
Someone named Zachary Scott sent me an email entitled, “Ready for Use” spamming me for Cialis or Viagra or some other penis-enlargement offering (don't have a penis, don't want one...although I can attest that they are great fun!). But look at that again...not only a great name for a hero...but he thoughtfully provided the title of the book as well! Can’t you just see him? Standing tall and commanding, his hands firmly planted on his hips, his stance wide. And kneeling at his feet, a beautiful woman, naked...her knees spread wide, her hands palm up on her thighs, her head down, her hair a veil before her face...Zachary Scott and his slave, “Ready for Use.” Voila! Inspiration! And from a spam email.
One of my favorite names to come from spam is “Clinton Hunter.” Don’t remember what he was selling, but doesn’t the name make you think of a character out gunning for a certain presidential candidate? Clothed in black, ninja-like, lying in wait...(perhaps our hero Zachary Scott saves the day?) See what fun you can have with spam?