Guest Author Ainsley Wynter on Naming Characters

Hi friends! Ainsley sent this post originally on January 12, so if the ~timeline seems a bit weird, that’s why, and that’s on me. We’re very happy to have her visit with us again though! 🙂 She’s even got the end questions covered, so without further ado… Ainsley Wynter

HOW NOT TO NAME YOUR CHARACTERS
By Ainsley Wynter

Kissed at Midnight by Ainsley Wynter Book CoverThis is not the blog post topic I’d been noodling over when Lime put out a call for blog posts a few weeks ago. I’d intended to write about the newest book in my fantasy romance series, Once Upon a Princess. I wrote that book and the first one, Kissed at Midnight, as a dual timeline. Some of my favorite books by my favorite authors are written in a dual timeline. They are so cool when they’re done well. Overlapping plot points, a couple of the same scenes with different points of view, heroes who fight each other in a weirdly complex sword-fighting scene, and all in the first two books I’d ever written. What was I thinking?? Ahem. After many revisions I think I made it work. But this is not that blog post.

Instead, events in Romancelandia have been rather intense lately. Ultimately for the better, I hope. But it’s been A LOT. A light-hearted and self-effacing blog post with a dash of salty language might be a little respite. So, here goes.

I love names. I am a name nerd. I have books of baby names. I read blogs about them. I have opinions about baby names. I went through elaborate processes when I named my children. These processes were slightly less elaborate when naming our cats. One of my favorite parts of writing is coming up with lists of character names, place names, etc., and doing this by subgenre. I keep lists of names of main characters and secondary ones. I write fantasy romance, so most of the names fit in my Lost Royals world. (The novel and 10k I drafted of book two in my new adult contemporary series are shelved indefinitely, but I have several lists of character names and places for that series too.)

Character and place names should evoke or mirror the world of the story. For instance, a Justin or Amy in a fantasy romance could, perhaps, take the reader out of the story. A Torwyn or Moira, however, would potentially fit right in. Obviously, this is all subjective. Outside input on how readers react to character names can be incredibly helpful in this process. As a writer you can get a sense of the difference between intent—“Ooh, cool name!”—and effect—“This name makes me think of something else and I can’t get that out of my head now.” You don’t know this when you’re drafting. Lol, sob.

Back when I was first drafting the books in my Lost Royals series and even, just learning how to write a romance, I didn’t have readers. (Nor was I brave enough to blog about character names and ask for feedback. Drat.) I had critique partners (CPs), different critique groups, and even contest judges. I can’t remember if any of them gave me feedback on my character names.

A few started to comment on one of my place names, and with good reason. One of the early names of the fantasy kingdoms where my series takes place was called Essex. To me, Essex sounded like it could be in Western Europe, and specifically in the United Kingdom. That’s what I was going for. However, it was, uh, too on the nose. CPs thought I was actually writing about the real Essex, a county in eastern England. There’s also a reality series set in Essex that has a vastly different feel than what I was trying to evoke with that name in my series. (Google TOWIE.) I hadn’t heard of it until I saw it mentioned on The Graham Norton Show. It sounds really entertaining, but not at all in the way I wanted my series to go.

Once Upon a Princess by Ainsley Wynter book coverBut somewhere in the middle of contest feedback or CP feedback I decided to (finally) use a recommended strategy for editing your novel: text to voice. It took me half a page before I realized I had some big name changes I needed to make. Oof.

I think the original paragraph is lost to somewhere several drafts ago, but the names are vividly in my head. I LOVE these names. I haven’t actually changed all of them. Here they are, two kingdoms and my hero’s original name: Essex, L’Ortagia, and Hartigan.

Please read them aloud for the best effect. The “g” in L’Ortagia was written to have a soft g sound like a “zh” (like the second g in garage), but read it with a hard g (like goat). O.O

The text to voice program on my MacBook read them like “eh-SEX”, “lohr-GIA”, and “HARD-AGAIN.” The middle one really sounded like ORGY-uh.

Yeah. What had I done?

If I had been writing erotic romance, perhaps these names would have worked. I don’t know. Maybe having a hero named HARD AGAIN (!) would be awesome? It wouldn’t. Erotic rom authors don’t use names like this either. These names are ridiculous. If I hadn’t heard them said aloud I wouldn’t have even known how off they were and how unintentionally suggestive they were. Ahem.

I liked the name Hartigan because I love cardigans. Naming a hero after one of my favorite things just made sense to me. I even had my heroine give him her own nickname of Ari.

Now that I think of it, one of my CPs said Hartigan made her think of Madmartigan, the hero in the movie Willow. Fun movie, but again, not what I was going for.

Regardless, I knew, with full clarity, that I had to change these names. Some day down the road I’d love to put out the full series as audiobooks. I can’t imagine a narrator having to say eh-SEX, ORGY-uh, and HARD-AGAIN without getting the giggles. And they shouldn’t have to. The names should do the world building for the story, not be an impediment to it. Whew.

This is why it’s important to take the advice we are given. Or, at least, to try it out. And ask for feedback. What you do with that is up to you. In terms of writing I think it’s important not to lose your vision of what you want the story to be. But, if certain details or storylines could take the reader completely out of the story, you have to make those decisions carefully. Be mindful. Keep your sense of humor too. ;P

So now, in the final, published version of Kissed at Midnight, my hero is named Adrian. I ended up changing the heroine’s name too, but her original name was at least PG. Now it’s Sidonie. And in ONCE UPON A PRINCESS, Callum, my hero, is from Embury, not Essex. Embury has the feel I was going for but doesn’t evoke an actual place or reality show. Possibly because I’m stubborn I kept L’Ortagia. It’s pronounced lohr-TAY-zhuh. 😉 My heroine, Zara, is the heir to the kingdom.

Do you have opinions on character and place names? Are there character names that make you swoon? And if you’ve ever named an object or pet or child after a character please let me know. I can’t think of a greater honor a character could have.

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