Names. One of the most memorable aspects of a story. When I say Aislinn and Wulfgar, almost every romance reader instantly remembers Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Wolf and the Dove. Names help create the character and define the era, location, and social class as well. When I was in about junior high, I for no apparent reason started a list of every name I could come up with starting with each letter of the alphabet, and kept it probably through college. I've always been fascinated by names--their meanings, origins, and combinations.
As an author you try to create names that fit the character and will stand out, just a bit, from the crowd. One of my publishers has a no-no list of overused names, which I applaud, even though I question a couple of inclusions. I was also a little cranky when my first French gargoyle had to suddenly change his name because I hadn’t checked the list. So Luc became Damien. C’est la vie. Luc had probably been a bit of a lazy choice, anyway. And I’d like to add Jack, Jake and Nick to the list. Sorry. All good solid names. All just a wee bit over-used.
I also use names and variations on names to show certain things within a story. In my cowboy books, the brothers are all named after famous authors, because their father was a voracious reader as well as a rancher. So CJ is named for Raymond Chandler and James Jones, Fitz is Faulkner Fitzgerald, and Trip (Triple H) is named for Robert Howard and Ernest Hemingway. The use of nicknames is an indicator of the relationship between the brothers. From the time he meets Allison, CJ calls her Allie, which no one has done since her father. That she lets him is an indication of her growing feelings for the man. In Curses, there is a similar thing with Jonas/Joe. Mel loves his name, while he’s spent so much of his life trying to be “an average Joe,” that he has totally adopted the name. Only his attraction to Mel lets him accept being called Jonas.
I’ve been guilty of using ethnic names that need a pronunciation guide. David Garvaglia, the hero of Djinni and the Geek, is pleased when Anissa (a made-up name, since I invented the existence of a Djinn language) pronounces his name correctly—Gar-VAHL-ya, instead of Gar-VAG-lee-a. I’ll admit I stole this name from a high-school friend. Cian, the 200-year-old Irish mage in Sorcerer’s Song, coming in September’s Ellora’s Cavemen Anthology, loves the way his name sounds in Lyra’s musical voice: KEY-inn, with just the right inflection.
Lyra, from the Greek for music, seemed kind of obvious for a siren, but pretty enough that I used it anyway. Marina, the selkie in Stone and Sea, is a bit obvious too, but in reality I named her for a cousin. I kind of like to slip little homages in here and there. Beth, heroine of Always a Cowboy was also named after a recently deceased cousin. I do have a couple of websites I use when I’m looking for names, especially for specific nationalities. Other authors on my loops have been helpful too. Welsh author Hweyla Lyn (Yep that’s her real first name. Isn’t it cool?) provided the names for Beltaine Bargain. For most of my contemporary characters I like names that are simple and not too far out, but not overused. I try to diligently avoid trendy. (shudder) Now fantasy and futuristic names...those you get to simply make up. Working right now on Tabrin and Zeyd--futuristic bounty hunters. Yum.
In the end naming your characters is nearly as personal as naming your children, though you're not stuck listening to them grouse about them through their teenage years. It's a fun part of the creative process and a place where you can add a subtle nudge or a tip of the hat. And if they don't work out? Oh well, there's always another story.