Where Did You Get that Name?

Ann H Gabhart Ann's Posts, One Writer's Journal 22 Comments

I’ve been giving you a behind the scenes look at how I go about beginning a new book. First I let you peek at a character sketch for my new character in Murder Is No Accident, Maggie Greene. Sunday I told you about how an old house in my town was the spark for the new mystery idea. Then a day or so ago one of you asked where I came up with the name Fonda. So tonight I’m going to let you see part of my character list for Hidden Springs mystery number 3. I could show you the entire six page list that includes characters for all three Hidden Springs mysteries, but your eyes would probably glaze over. My Hidden Springs town doesn’t have a big population, but it does have plenty of people.

So meet Fonda Joyce Chandler Elwood. This isn’t really her. This is just a picture I grabbed off a free photo site, morgueFile Free Photos, because she looks sort of the way I imagine Miss Fonda, except she appears more cheerful than my old lady in the story.

So here is how I keep up with who is who when I’m writing.

Hidden Springs 3 New Characters

Fonda Joyce Chandler Elwood (80) –owner of the old Chandler house (born 1935)
Husband Gilbert Elwood – died when he was 75 when Fonda was 70
(No children – one child stillborn)
Brother – Randall Chandler – killed in auto accident while away in the Army (born 1931 – 21 when he died)
Sister – Audrey Chandler Carlson (Lyndon formerly) – born in 1945 – died of suspicious causes in 1980
(Had one child – a son, Bradley Jr. (born 1971) Husband Bradley Carlson moved away and remarried in 1981.)

Lorene Waverly Carlson (born in 1946) Died when she was 45 (Bradley’s second wife who died of what was ruled suicide in 1991) (Divorced with large settlement from husband Dennis Waverly)
Lana Waverly 49 (born in 1966) (Lorene’s daughter who never believed Lorene committed suicide)

Maggie Greene – 15
Mary – mother
Curtis (Curt) – father
Jesse – younger brother – 6
Dog – Bertie

Secondary Characters
Ellen Elwood – 75 – Wife of cousin to Fonda’s husband Gilbert Fred (deceased) who is Fonda’s power of attorney
Daughter Pam – 52 – lives in Arizona

Sonny (changed from Freddie) Elwood – 40 – Ellen & Fred’s son who works at the bank and has a gambling problem

Geraldine Harper – 1st victim – real estate realtor
Son – Grant Harper

Florence Stamper, Etta Williams, Della Jenkins – the three other women at the Gentle Care Home

Brenda Gibson – owner of the Gentle Care Home

Felicia Peterson (formerly Barton) – 30 – Ellen’s friend’s daughter she hires to spend some time with Miss Fonda while Ellen is in Arizona

Vernon Trent – 35 – Antique/junk dealer

Willard Jefferson (deceased) – Author of the Keane County History written in 1954

Truett Johnson – long ago sheriff (died of a heart attack)

Mrs. Paxton – car getting oil changed at T.R.’s

Bill Ridner and Stanley Campbell – have a fender bender in church parking lot

Mrs. Bottoms – Maggie’s bus driver
Becka – Maggie’s friend on the bus

That’s probably more than you wanted to know and your head may be spinning from all those names. But it’s important that I keep a list so that when my head starts spinning while I’m writing I won’t give someone a new name.

So how do I pick all these names? With a character like Fonda or Maggie, I test drive a number of names before I settle on one. And even then I have been known to change a name deep in a story. I just did that in the story I’m writing now. A name of a major character has to work. Fonda, which I may have picked out of my baby name book, just seemed right for my old lady. That book is literally falling apart. I must have used it to name the characters in my first novel many, many years ago. The book is now held together with a rubber band and the pages are tattered and brown with age. But it’s still the name source I like best. I like to leaf through the book and let this or that name catch my eye as a possibility. I’ll write the name down on a sheet of paper along with all the other names that I think maybe might work. And then I pick whichever one sounds right.

For minor characters, I don’t put in that much work. I just think up a name on the fly and then right it down before I forget it on the fly. I try not to have too many names that sound alike in one book. I keep a master list of my main characters’ names from all my books so I won’t use the same names over and over again. A few of the names I changed as I was working on their character, but I kept the old name just in case I changed my mind again.

I enjoy naming characters. In this series the character I had the hardest time naming was my newspaper editor. He started out as Miles, a name I really liked for him. But then I got to thinking about my main character being named Michael. Too much alike. So I was on the hunt for a new name for the editor. I even asked on Facebook and got dozens of great suggestions for the editor’s name. It’s been a while so I’m not sure if a reader suggested Hank, but wherever I grabbed the name, it worked. Short. Nothing sweet or sentimental about it. To the point. Perfect for my newspaper editor. At least I thought so.

And so name by name, I drop people down into my little town of Hidden Springs. It’s fun named a town full of people.

Do you sometimes get the picture of a new character just from his or her name? Have you read stories where you thought the name of a character just didn’t fit?

This is your last chance to throw your name in my drawing hat to perhaps win a copy of one of the first two Hidden Springs mysteries, Murder at the Courthouse or Murder Comes by Mail. Just leave a comment on this post to enter. You must be at least 18 years old to enter. Phyllis, last Sunday’s winner, picked Murder Comes by Mail. One more winner for this giveaway and then I’ve already got prizes lined up for my book release celebration to come in a few weeks. I think you’ll like them. That giveaway is coming soon.

As always thanks for reading.

Comments 22

  1. Karen Jones

    I recently finished a book, Hidden Falls by Olivia Newport, which our daughter gave me for Christmas , In the front of the book she listed the main characters, their occupation and relationship to each other. I found it very helpful for the characters that just wouldn’t stick in my head. By the time I was halfway through this 500+ page novel I finally did not have to refer to the list (maybe once or twice) 😊 I’ve read many books and I don’t think I’ve ever seen this done before.

    1. Post
      Ann H Gabhart

      I’ve seen books that had character lists and some that even have a family tree with dates in historical novels, Karen. It can be very helpful. I don’t think I need to do that in my books since I usually focus on a few main characters, but some books jump about through years and between characters.

  2. Paula

    Just visited your Facebook page. Comment on reading late: I have twice this week fallen asleep and heard a “thunk”. It was my book clunking to the floor. The I just pick it up , shut it if it’s still open and find my place in the morning! LOL. Always love your Friday Smiles!

    1. Post
      Ann H Gabhart

      I’ve dropped a book now and again myself, Paula. Thanks for sharing and so glad you have fun with my Friday smiles on my Facebook page.

    1. Post
      Ann H Gabhart

      Writing a book is quite a process, Betsy, although I’m sure plenty of writers have different ways to go about the process. For instance, those other writers might have better memories than I do and not have to have a list. 🙂

  3. Connie Lee

    I think the main characters have names that pretty much match them. A handsome man should have a handsome name, and a pretty lady should have a very pretty name. Animal characters may have names that would describe their personality somewhat. I can’t remember reading about characters that their names didn’t match, I’ve never really thought about that.

    1. Post
      Ann H Gabhart

      But you might now, Connie. The thing is that what feels or sounds like a pretty name to one person might not sound the same to someone else. But I do like strong names for my male characters. I like being comfortable with a name, but sometimes the character has to be comfortable with it too. I have had characters that just wouldn’t wake up off the page until I decided they had the wrong name.

  4. Karen Jones

    Goodness! No wonder you have to keep a list f the characters in your novels. My mind lost track of the relationships ships third list down. I’m happy you are able to keep them straight. 😊

    1. Post
      Ann H Gabhart

      It’s helpful to have the list on computer so I can pop over to the list if I need to check a character’s name or age. Plus, if a minor character walks on scene I want to make sure I don’t give that person a name too much like other minor characters in the story. It can get confusing, Karen. 🙂

  5. Rory Lynn Lemond

    Years ago when I was thinking about how characters are named I thought about a baby book…it seems like a handy tool to have when developing your
    people in your stories…I love the way how you develop the town that you are writing about and how you keep everything straight…good ideas. thanks for a chance to be able to be put into the drawing..love reading your books

    1. Post
      Ann H Gabhart

      I’ve had more than one baby name book, but I only really like the one. It’s some sort of creative start button to open that worn out book and start reading names. And I definitely have to keep a list or I’d be naming the bank president or the country clerk secretary something different every time he or she happened to show up in a scene. LOL. I do a date list sometimes too because dates can get a little mixed up when you go from chapter to chapter. Is it Wednesday or maybe Tuesday.

      Always fun to hear from you, Rory. Maybe I’ll use your name in a book. Not sure I’ve ever met anyone named Rory. Is there a story behind that name?

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  6. Pat Merritt

    Can’t wait to read your book, “Murder Is No Accident”.
    I have your first two and loved them both. Sometimes I compare
    names in novels with names in real life. Your main character “Fonda”
    might bring up negative thoughts for people who dislike Jane Fonda. Me,
    I think she is a great mentor for women. I know she, your character, is 80,
    but the picture you’ve shown will help me to know she is a “jolly old character”!
    I would love to win this 3rd novel.

    1. Post
      Ann H Gabhart

      You know, Pat, I never once in all the time I was planning the mystery or even after I came up with the name, Fonda, ever thought of Jane Fonda until you just now mentioned it. That’s how it is sometimes. I get so focused in on the character and the name I think is right, I never think about others with that name. I actually named a kid Johnny in my first published book and only later thought about that being my own child’s name. Writers are half crazy. That can be my only excuse, but I’ll hope people won’t think about Jane Fonda when they’re reading about Miss Fonda. No relationship at all.

  7. Kelly Gregory

    Hi Ann! I just really enjoy reading and I read a LOT of books and I honestly don’t recall having a problem with the character names in the books I have read. I agree with the others that I would get confused if character names are too similar. Most of the authors I have read have seem to stick to that and also as mentioned the names usually fit the time period of the story. Thanks for this glimpse into your process and your character list! I look forward to reading about them soon!

    1. Post
      Ann H Gabhart

      Great, Kelly. You must be easy going when it comes to characters’ names since you read a lot of books and get to know a lot of characters. It is good to use names that fit in a historical story. I have looked in the index of some of my research books when I’m writing about a certain historical period to see what names might fit. Names do have their popular times, but then some, many of them Bible names, have been steadily popular through the ages. I have picked a few different sounding names now and again. Carlyn in my Shaker book, The Innocent. Jessamine in another Shaker book, The Gifted. Sophrena in that book too. I met a lady named Sophrena once and told her I was going to use her name in a book. In the book I’m writing now, I’ve named one of my main characters Adria. So I like unusual names too along with those basic Bible names like Sarah and Ruth and David and Michael.

  8. Paula

    Hi Ann. I like names to be familiar and one, two or three syllables. If the name is too hard to pronounce then it is distracting to the storyline. I’m always stopping to try to pronounce it in my head. And the story doesn’t flow.Also I think names should fit the time period. And I don’t like it when two names are so similar, such as Mari and Marni— unless they are twins— because you get the characters mixed up. Do your editors try to get you to change names or suggest better ones. Sometimes I wonder how authors come up with strange sounding names.. sounds like your names fit MY criteria!!! LOL

    1. Post
      Ann H Gabhart

      I pay attention to how my character’s names sound when I’m coming up with them, Paula. In fact if I know a character is going to be romantically involved with another and someday, perhaps beyond the book in their unknown future, I even pair the first name of my female character up with the guy’s last name. I want something that sounds good and flows off the tongue or the reader’s eyes. I don’t know that I’ve ever used a four syllable name, but I might have for a minor character. Sister Sophrena in my Shaker books comes close. But I liked her name so much I let her be in two Shaker books, The Gifted and Christmas at Harmony Hill. And I’m with you about those names that I can’t pronounce or actually see no way to pronounce. I tend to skip over them and then later on in the story I have forgotten who they are. Those hard to read names are often in fantasy or futuristic books and I understand why the writers use them, but I have a lazy Southern tongue and I guess reader’s eye too. LOL.

      Actually, editors do pay attention to names and will ask a writer to change a name if they don’t feel it works. I’ve been asked to change characters’ names. Once or twice because I used a name that was too much like a well known person. I didn’t even realize I had done that until the editor pointed it out. Now I will sometimes google my chosen name for a main character to avoid that pitfall. Then I have also been asked to change names because I had too many names starting with the same letter. That was in my book, The Believer where I named everybody something starting with “e.” Well, not everybody, but too many. I didn’t have to change my main characters’ names, Ethan and Elizabeth, but I did change a few minor character names. So now I try to vary the first letters of my names. I’ve noticed over the years that I have pet names or pet starting letters that I just like best. Great question.

  9. Margaret Nelson

    I sometimes have a problem if a character in one book has the same name as a character I didn’t like in another book 🙂 Certain names do bring up certain ideas in my mind of what the person should be like.

    1. Post
      Ann H Gabhart

      That’s an interesting observation, Margaret. I thought about asking if you had trouble if a character had the same name as somebody you didn’t like in real life, but I didn’t think about another character in a different book. Like Jason in those horror movies. I still like the name Jason. 🙂

      Writers do use names as a way to help with characterization. I sometimes use the example of how differently you will look at a character named Mr. Higgenbotham or one named Bobby Joe. We do have our preconceived ideas about names.

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