Name-Calling

People with names like Gay Barr or Harry Dyck probably have a keen appreciation for the importance of names, but I was lucky that my parents chose baby names devoid of unfortunate double entendres.

Like proud parents, some authors agonize for days over the perfect name for their characters.  I’d like to say that I choose my characters’ names with equal care, but the truth is I don’t.  It’s lucky I never had children – I’d probably have named them Bradley Ulysses Martin or Alexander Steven Steadman and doomed them to eternal taunting when the other kids learned their initials.

The only character name I really researched was Aydan Kelly (the main character in the Never Say Spy series).  I spent hours searching for the perfect Irish name, because her Irish heritage was going to be an important subtext in the story.  I finally settled on Aydan, which is Gaelic for “little fire”.

If you’ve read the series, you’re probably thinking, “Um… what?”

Yeah, you’re right.  Not only did Aydan’s heritage turn out to be completely irrelevant to the story; but I also unwittingly selected a spelling that isn’t even Irish – a while ago, a lovely Turkish reader named Aydan wrote to me, curious about how I’d come to select her quintessentially Turkish name for my “Irish” character.  Oops.

I may be casual about naming most of my characters, but I always worry a bit when I’m choosing a name for a villain.  I can only imagine what it must be like for a reader to discover that a vile sociopath is named after them.  (Though I will admit there’s a certain passive-aggressive satisfaction in naming an unsavoury character after someone who screwed me over in real life.  Not that I’ve ever done that.  Much.)

Bad associations aside, some names give me a completely illogical visceral reaction.  “Alicia” feels cold, controlling, and uptight to me, and I have no idea why.  I’m sure there are thousands of loving, warm, funny Alicias in the world (and if you’re an Alicia reading this, I apologize – I’m sure you’re a very nice person).  But I’ve never met an Alicia, so my oddball bias remains.

And some names give me warm fuzzies for no apparent reason.  I’m sentimentally saving “Joy” for an extra-special character because if I’d ever had a daughter, that would have been her name.

What names give you a visceral reaction (good or bad)?  Or just for fun, run your least favourite non-friend’s initials through the Bad-Guy Hippie Name Generator and share, share, share!

Book 14 update:  It was another good writing week!  I just hit Chapter 33 and Hellhound is being himself – I was laughing out loud while I wrote last night.  I love my job!

43 Comments

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43 responses to “Name-Calling

  1. Funniest name initials was something my brothers and I did to our sister…one girl…three guys…she was so out numbered. Anyway…her first name is Terri with middle name of Diane and Tisdale as the last name prior to her getting married. TDT…nothing fun with those initials, but from a very early age us guys always called her Terri Irene…funniest part my three girls were well into their early 20’s before they figured out Irene wasn’t their aunts middle name and since they only knew her with her married name…they couldn’t figure why we called her that. Light bulb went off with one of our girls at a family dinner with my sister and her family…..I still laugh when I think about how appalled our girls were to think their dad and uncles would do that to their aunt…my sister always thought it was funny…

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  2. Jim

    When giving thought to Ayden Kelly’s name, Were you thinking of her as a bada.. assault weapon? Given she is forty something, is she an allegory for an AK47?
    jim

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    • Funny you should mention that! I wasn’t consciously thinking of it at the time; but in my working files for the Never Say Spy series, I designated the books as AK-1, AK-2, etc. instead of using the full titles (which keeps my folders nicely in alpha/chronological order). So if I wrote enough books in the series, I’d eventually end up with an AK-47… 😉

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  3. Barbara B

    Hi Diane,
    My daughters middle name is Joy and she hates it.
    But I’m like you, some names give me the chills although it is due to experience. I would never feel comfortable wit a person named Donna . There are others of course.
    I personally don’t care what you call your characters because they become the story. Having said that, I think it’s your writing skills which makes the character liked or disliked!

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    • Hey, that’s an interesting idea – maybe I should take a name that I really dislike and write a character for it that changes my mind about the name! It’s sad that your daughter hates her middle name, but I often think that parents can’t win – no matter what they name their children, somebody or something is going to make the child decide they don’t like the name. 😉

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  4. Yes some names do create a feeling but for me its usually a tie to someone I once knew. So wonderful that you love writing so much Diane. I’m smiling wondering what Hellhound is up to.

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  5. Glynn-Ellen M Harrell

    Just wanted to wish you and your family – real and imagined – a very Happy Thanksgiving!
    Still reading, but have used innumerable excuses for not writing. I write them in my head, but never seem to get them in the email!
    Never seems funny enough, thoughtful enough, intelligent enough, thankful for your books enough, and readable enough….that’s enough for now.
    Ellen

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    • Thank you so much, Ellen, and a very happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, too! It’s so kind of you to think of writing – your good thoughts alone are “enough”. 🙂 And I’m glad you’re still enjoying the series!

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  6. Just for fun, I ran my name through the Bad-Guy Hippie name generator. “Whiny Rat Blister” has a ring to it, don’t you think? Surely I can work that into a book somewhere.

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    • It does have a certain je ne sais quoi. And I can totally imagine you working it into a book. I can hardly wait to read your next one! Hey, maybe Fugly needs a Whiny Rat Blister friend… or chew toy. 😉

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  7. Exactly, sista, exactly. (thnort!)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. One of my characters is so big and bad that he doesn’t even use a name. His formal title is The Emissary of the Eldest of the Elders. (The Eldest calls him his errand boy, but he’s the only one who would dare. The Eldest is an old man, but he’s still bad enough to get by with it.) When anyone actually dares to refer to him, he is The Emissary. I wracked my brain trying to find a name for him and finally just tabled it. Turns out it’s more effective that everyone is too afraid even to ask. 😜

    When I started writing the story, I had a couple of names in mind. Worked out perfectly. That’s all the characters I had. No kidding.

    As the story grew and more people started showing up, I either knew what their names were when I saw them in my mind’s eye, or I would just ask them and they would tell me. After that happened (and worked so well!) , problem solved.

    Further, deponent sayeth not. 🤪

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    • “The Emissary” – I like it. It’s definitely imposing!

      Your name-selection process sounds a lot like mine: A few seconds after I realize I need a new character name, one pops into my head. Then I check my database to make sure I haven’t used it before, and check the internet to make sure I haven’t accidentally cribbed some famous person’s name, and stack it up against the other names in the story to make sure it isn’t confusingly similar… y’know, stuff like that. But other than the due diligence, the choice is pretty well instantaneous.

      I did try an online random name generator, but none of its names sounded right to me so I guess there must be some muse whispering in my ear. (Or maybe that’s just the psychosis talking…)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Muse/psychosis…six/half-dozen. Just sayin’…

        Oh, and I try to knock off for the day no later than, say, 1:30 a.m. After that, the characters start to, well, interrupt. Noisily. I draw the line when some new guy begins to question how I’ve interpreted his motivations, for instance. And I just can’t abide all the whining.

        Have I mentioned the life expectancies of the more obnoxiously troublesome ones? No? Okay, then I probably shouldn’t. Just sayin’…

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        • Uh-oh. I’m glad I’m not one of your characters…

          I know what you mean about the characters interrupting, though. That happened pretty frequently for the first several books, but these days my characters are a little less demanding. At least they usually knock before bursting in now. 😉

          Liked by 1 person

          • How considerate of them! Maybe mine will be as well by the time I get to BOOK FOURTEEN! Now, they still just kick the door down. Or blow it up. There’s this thing with arrows that the female lead knows how to do.

            And don’t worry about a thing. Hot redheads, especially tall ones, fare very well as my characters. Wouldn’t wanna spoil anything, though. Just sayin’… 🙂

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    • Ted

      I like The Emissary too. When I thought about writing a book, I wanted characters with easy to remember names, like Dan West etc.

      Liked by 2 people

      • A pet peeve of min, that. I’ve closed books on the third page because of a flood of polysyllabic fabricated names that were nothing but gibberish in the first place. And some were apparently family names that differed only by a letter or two. Impossible to keep up with. Homey don’t play that.

        So you’re writing now? Just pick a place and start!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Barbara Vernon

    Can’t think of any names I don’t like. Some people perhaps but not the name. My father was Robert and I have a daughter named Melody Joy. Me, I am just plain old Barbara. only person who ever shortened it to Barb was my boss. Couldn’t very well tell her that was a no-no.

    Waiting for 14. And I don’t give a fig how you came up with names. I just love hellhound.

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    • LOL! I love him, too! And it’s funny how some people shorten names without permission – I would never do that; but some of my very good friends do. Fortunately, I don’t mind – as the saying goes, “Call me anything you want, but don’t call me late for dinner.” 😉

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  10. jenny_o

    We tried so hard to be aware of future problems when naming our kids, to the point that we changed the order of our first-born’s first and second names to avoid an issue with initials. Well. He hated us for years because the teachers always used the wrong name for him and even after we got smart and stopped giving his whole name, the other kids found ways to turn his preferred name into something he hated. Kids, the little b—-s!!! If they want to tease and bully someone, they’ll find a way.

    I know what you mean about not liking certain names and it having nothing to do with people you’ve known by that name. I find the same thing with words in general. Some words are just . . . meh. Some are ick. Some are nice. It’s all so ephemeral and sub-sub-conscious!

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    • It’s funny how some words have such a high ‘ick factor’ for some people but not others. You’re right; it must be some deeply-buried word-trauma or something.

      And I agree with you about how vicious kids can be. I’ve always wondered whether it’s something that could be changed by the right environment, or whether all children are born with a deep-seated urge to separate “us” from “them”. I guess that would make sense from an evolutionary standpoint, but you’d think we’d have gotten over it by now. Sigh.

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  11. Drae

    Sounds good about the book! The names being used today leave one to wonder what the parent was drinking or smoking when deciding on a name. Let alone if you can pronounce it.

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    • That’s true! The brand new made-up names are sometimes fun, but the ones that drive me nuts are the “creative” spellings of the old standbys. Don’t those parents realize that they’re dooming their kids to spell out their names every… single… time… for the rest of their lives?

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  12. I’ve the post, I don’t think I have any names I really hate.
    If I had a daughter I wanted to call her limona it’s the Italian for lemon and it was a really cute village by lake gada in Italy.
    I’ve always liked the name Jordan, I kinda named a child that never was/wouldn’t be that.

    I kinda had a thing for the name Robert for a lot of years and the name mark.

    Oh I have all of the books in paperbacks now, I have to say they look super sexy on the top shelf of my bookcase.

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  13. Michelle

    You know, getting to name bad guys after people who have annoyed me or made me mad would be epic!! I might have to rethink my earlier post response and risk getting shit on by the seagulls. It might totally be worth it! <>
    And speaking of character names, somebody forced me to watch a Jason Bourne movie recently and the name on his Canadian passport is John Kane! I propose that Mr Damon is not worthy of the name. Just saying.

    I have several names that get my hackles up for one reason or another and Alicia/Alisha/Aleshia (yes I’ve known girls/women with all three of these spellings) is one of them. On the other hand, I love the name Athena but I’ve known four of them so far and they were all horrible human beings. Shelly is the worst for me, and yes I know it’s a common nickname for Michelle, but I truly despise it. And I have no grounds for it. I’ve known three Shelly’s and they were perfectly nice people. Ralph and Rudy bring back shudder-worthy childhood memories, so I don’t like those names, I think I have issues, lmao! Maybe I’ll take a page out of Andrews book and call all the men I meet George and all women Gracie. Those are happy classic names.
    Your name generator had me giggling: Brown-nosing platypus groper, bwahahahaha! Being that it’s Thanksgiving here I’ll send a bit of thanks out into the universe that this was not how my name was chosen ~snicker.
    Cheers!!

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    • WHAAAT? Jason Bourne is John Kane?!? Dang. You’re right – Matt Damon may be a fine actor, but he’s definitely not John Kane. 😉

      I have to admit that ‘Shelly’ bothers me a bit, too. I don’t have the same gut-deep loathing that you do, but I tend to avoid names that make me think, “Wait, is that an adjective?” i.e. “That is a particularly shelly mollusk…” (Sorry, now you probably hate the name even more.)

      You’re right – ‘George’ and ‘Gracie’ make me smile! And ‘brown-nosing platypus groper’ just slays me. Still snickering…

      Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

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  14. I just name all my characters, ‘George’ and let my readers sort out who’s who…

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  15. I actually have met a Wanda Dick and a Harry Bahls. Names I have disliked are more like Lance and Dirk. The good guy Hippie Naming Device is actually more fun for the people I know. There really aren’t that many that I dislike that much except maybe Deranged Scum Crumpet (Trump). That one is appropriate.

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    • And it even (almost) rhymes! When I was a kid, one of our neighbours was named Harry Dyck. And when I was typing this, I almost wrote “I grew up with a Harry Dyck”, which, while technically accurate is… *ahem* an unfortunate turn of phrase. Gay Barr is also a real person. I haven’t heard of either of them in decades, and I’ve often wondered if they changed their names.

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