Monday, May 2, 2016

Naming Characters by Marilyn Meredith aka F.M. Meredith

Today I have a very special guest blog by my good friend and fellow author Marilyn, aka F.M., Meredith.  Marilyn always has great advice, and her words of wisdom in this post are no different. 

Naming Characters
Even when I’m giving a prize winner’s name to a character, I like to make sure that name fits the

person I’ve created. In most cases, it’ll be a minor character who probably won’t appear again. Of course if someone told me they wanted to be a suspect or even the murderer, I’d be glad to do as they desired.

There are many ways to choose characters’ names.

One of the characters who has been in every book in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, is Officer Doug Milligan. I have a favorite cousin named Doug and I always liked the name as I like the character. Milligan seem to fit for his last name. Often that’s the way it happens, the name just comes to me.

When I first knew I wanted to introduce a black police officer, I chose the last name Zachary. This was the surname of a Camp Fire leader I knew years ago. I don’t really remember where the name Felix came from, but Felix Zachary has been an important character for many books in the series.

When I first began writing my Tempe Crabtree mystery series, I borrowed my great grandmother’s name because it seemed to fit for a Native American or Indian as she prefers to be called.

Marilyn at the PSWA conference 2015

When I’m writing about a person with a definite ethnic background, I’ll visit a website with names from that culture and try to find a first and last name that seem to go with the character as I see him or her.

For the really bad villains, I like to choose odd names. In A Crushing Death one of the bad guys is named Omar Padweitz, another is Elford Lemus. At times, I’ve used much more common names for other reasons.

If I, through some strange coincidence used your name for an unlikeable character, I apologize. I assure you it wasn’t done on purpose.

Speaking of names, I love Holli’s. Think about it, Holli Castillo could be the name of a movie or TV star, or a famous singer. Guess what, Holli writes great mysteries and also creates short films.
If you’re an author, what is your way of choosing character’s names?

Marilyn aka F. M. Meredith

A Crushing Death

A pile of rocks is found on a dead body beneath the condemned pier, a teacher is accused of molesting a student, the new police chief is threatened by someone she once arrested for attacking women, and Detective Milligan’s teenage daughter has a big problem.

F. M. Meredith, who is also known as Marilyn Meredith, is nearing the number of 40 published books. Besides being an author, she is a wife, mother, grandma and great-grandmother. Though the Rocky Bluff she writes about is fictional, she lived for over twenty-years in a similar small beach town. Besides having many law enforcement officers in her family she is counts many as friends. She teaches writing, loves to give presentations to writing and other groups, and is a member of Mystery Writers of America, three chapters of Sisters in Crime and on the board of Public Safety Writers Association.

Facebook: Marilyn Meredith

Contest: Once again, the person who comments on the most blogs during this tour, can have a character named after them in the next Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery. Tomorrow you can find me here:


Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Thank you so much for hosting me today. I met Holli at a PSWA conference and we became friends immediately. Wish I could see her and her family more often. In the photo I think I"m taking notes, but I could be checking my email.

Susan Tuttle said...

Names are the most fun for me. It seems my characters "tell" me their names, sometimes not until I'm immersed fully into the story. I'll use a "name holder" that suddenly becomes another name when the character finally turns around and says, "He, this is my name, not that one!" Sometimes they even tell me their names before the story begins. For my Skylark series, she simply would not tell me her last name, no matter what I tried (I even went through the phone book looking, to no avail). Finally she told me, "I don't have a last name. I'm just Skylark." And thus was her entire backstory born...

I also collect names I find as I read, watch TV, meet people. Some have the most wonderful names, like a character in an upcoming Skylark story (Aminah), who's named after a teller in my bank. And sometimes my clumsy fingers will typo a great name! My villain in a sic-fi story started out as some normal word, but ended up as a great villain-esque name (have no idea what the original word was supposed to be!). Bhasr. Isn't that a marvelous goof? So sci-fi and evil... Gotta love my clumsy fingers... LOL

Elaine Faber said...

In my Mrs. Odboddy Hometown Patriot novel, the town of Newbury is full of 'characters' with unusual names. Actually, it seems that nobody moves to Newbury unless they have a name like Waddlemucker, Mildred Higgenbottom, Colonel Farthingworth, Godfrey Baumgarten, Whistlemeyer, Sophia Rashmuller or Finklebaum. I either think up the names or watch for something unusual on TV movie credits. Giving my characters crazy names adds to the humor in my WWII humorous adventure. The character's first names come from an internet chart that gives the most popular first names of children during certain time frames. (1920-30's) in my case. Thanks for sharing your reasonable explanation of how you name your characters... not that I could ever do anything as reasonable...

Jackie Taylor Zortman said...

Seems like no matter how I choose character names, there is always one or two people who think they know who it's written about, which is not the case. I just put together names that I think sound good to me. Sometimes I'll use family surnames for a first or middle name or just juggle them around. I have used my best friend's Hawaiian name for one of my characters, as well. Nobody knows her by that name except those super close to her and it's just her name, not her in the book. Nice job, Marilyn, and nice blog, Holli.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Loved your comment, Susan. I collect graduation programs too, they are a great way to collect a bunch of names. And Elaine, the names you use are perfect for you series.
I think it's interesting, Jackie, how we all have different methods to use in naming our characters.

Thank you three for leaving a comment.

jrlindermuth said...

I've had names come to me out of nowhere and there's been a few times when I changed a character's name half way through a story.
One useful source for coming up with names is the phone book. Open to a random page and point. Then find an appropriate first name to go with the surname.

Joseph Haggerty said...

A lot of what I write about involves street people. Street have regular names and nicknames and are usually called by their nickname. Many within the criminal element have aliases as well as nicknames. So creating a names for these characters can be challenging, but fun.

Maggie said...

I love the name Tempe Crabtree. Names come from everywhere. I've "stolen" last names from movie credits---there were some great ones in the 40s. Sometimes I go through the phone book. I try to consider the generation of the characters and the time period. According to the SSN name index, the name Brittany didn't even exist until 1971!

I periodically contribute to the Lethal Ladies Write blog and am preparing a post on naming characters. It will go live on May 15.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

John, I have never used the phone book, but if a name jumps out at me from somewhere I write it down.
I've never had to think about street people and nicknames, but I may one day. thanks for the comment, Joe.
Yep, movie credits are great, Maggie--and it does bug me when someone names a character a name that was never even though of yet in historical fiction. Nowadays, people seem to make up names and the spelling can be most interesting. Be sure and let me know when you blog post on character's names goes live.

Holli Castillo said...

Thanks so much, Marilyn, for blogging here. You always give some great insight into the mind of a writer.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I love visiting with you!