Sunday, April 28, 2013

THE HEROINE'S NAME by CHERYL PIERSON

For some reason, choosing the name of the heroine of a story is hard for me—much harder than naming the hero. I’m wondering if it’s because, as women, we give more thought to what we find attractive in a man (naturally!) Even if he’s “Hunk of the Week,” if his name doesn’t appeal to us, it’s hard to think of him romantically. This is true not only in my writing, but in my reading. If the names don't fit, I have to mentally substitute another one to take the place of what the author has decided on.

I think as we write, we are seeing our heroines from a different perspective. They are…us. So, naming them might not be as important in our minds, since secretly, we are them. (No, we can’t use our own name!)

The various heroines of our stories, while different in some respects, still retain qualities of ourselves that we’ve endowed them with. If you look at the heroines you’ve created, though they come from different places and circumstances and have different views of the world, there are some basic things about them that don’t change--even from different time periods.

There are at least three basic considerations for naming our heroines, apart from the obvious ones.(time period, setting, etc.)

The first one is, understanding the heroine and her motives.

Let’s look a minute at how a part of ourselves creep into our heroines’ lives, no matter what sub-genre we write. I always think of two examples that stand out in my own life experience that are easy to show.

Growing up in the 1960’s, women had three basic career opportunities: teacher, secretary, nurse. Those limitations didn’t matter, because I wanted to be a nurse ever since I could recall. But because my parents discouraged me from that field, I never pursued it—except in my writing.

At some point, in every story I write, that aspect of myself comes through in my heroine. There is always a need for her to use her nursing skills, and it’s usually to take care of the wounded hero. (In a Cheryl Pierson story, the hero will always be hurt somewhere along the way. Much like the guys with the red shirts on Star Trek know they won't be beaming back to the Enterprise from the planet’s surface, my heroes always have to figure they’re going to need some kind of medical care to survive my story.)

Another consideration is, that we must like the heroine.

She is us! Have you ever started writing a story after carefully picking names for your hero and heroine, only to discover you really don’t like the character herself; or maybe, when you write the name of the character, you feel your lip starting to curl? Is it the name itself you don’t like after repetitive use, or is it the character you’ve created? Either way, there’s a problem. Stop and consider exactly what it is about that character/name you have started to dislike. Remember, the heroine is part of you. If you’re hitting a rough spot in real life, it could be you are injecting some of those qualities into your character unwittingly. There may be nothing wrong with the name you’ve selected…it could just be your heroine has taken an unforeseen character turn that you aren’t crazy about.

Being a child of an alcoholic father, I do not like surprises. I want to know that things will be steady, stable and secure. But what can be certain in a tale of romance? Nothing! Just as the hero of my stories is going to be physically in jeopardy at some point, the heroine will always have to make a decision— a very hard decision—as to whether she will give up everything that she’s built her life around for the hero. Will she take a chance on love? In the end, of course, it’s always worth the gamble. But, because I am not a risk-taker in real life, my heroines carry that part of me, for the most part, with them—until they have to make a hard choice as to whether or not to risk everything for the love of the hero.

The third consideration is that we have to give her a name that reflects her inner strengths but shows her softer side.

This is not a dilemma for male characters. We don’t want to see a soft side—at least, not in this naming respect.

I try to find a name for my heroines that can be shortened to a pet name or nickname by the hero. (Very handy when trying to show the closeness between them, especially during those more intimate times.)

I always laugh when I think about having this conversation with another writer friend of mine, Helen Polaski. She and I were talking one day about this naming of characters, and I used the example of one of my favorite romances of all time, “Stormfire” by Christine Monson. The heroine’s name is Catherine, but the hero, at one point, calls her “Kitten.” Later, he calls her “Kit”—which I absolutely love, because I knew, even though “Kit” was short for Catherine, that he and I both were thinking of the time he’d called her “Kitten”—and so was she! Was “Kit” a short version of Catherine for him, or was he always thinking of her now as “Kitten”? Helen, with her dry northern humor, replied, “Well, I guess I’m out of luck with my name. The hero would be saying, ‘Oh, Hel…’”

One final thought to weigh is the way your characters’ names go together; the way they sound and “fit.” Does the heroine’s name work well not only with the hero’s first name, but his last name, too? In most cases, eventually his last name will become hers. Last names are a ‘whole ’nother’ blog!

In 1880, the top ten female names were, in order from 1 (most popular) to 10: Mary, Anna, Emma, Elizabeth (4), Minnie, Margaret, Ida, Alice, Bertha, and Sarah (10).
(Picture above is of my grandmother, Mary Elizabeth, and sisters Emma and Cora)

By 1980, they’d changed drastically: Jennifer, Amanda, Jessica, Melissa, Sarah (5), Heather, Nicole, Amy, Elizabeth (9) and Michelle.
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(My daughter Jessica, taken a couple of years ago)

Twenty-eight years later, in 2008, there seemed to be a resurgence toward the “older” names: Emma, which was completely out of the top twenty in 1980, had resurfaced and taken the #1 spot, higher than it had been in 1880. The others, in order, are: Isabella, Emily, Madison, Ava, Olivia, Sophia, Abigail, Elizabeth (9), and Chloe. Sarah was #20, being the only other name besides Elizabeth that remained in the top twenty on all three charts.

If you write historicals, these charts are great to use for minor and secondary characters as well. If you’ve chosen a name for your heroine that’s a bit unusual, you can surround her with “ordinary” characters to provide the flavor of the time period, while enhancing her uniqueness.

Names can also send “subliminal” messages to your reader. I wrote my short story, “A NIGHT FOR MIRACLES,” about a couple that meet under odd circumstances and experience their own miracle on Christmas Eve. Halfway through the story, I realized what I’d done and the significance of the characters’ names--Nick and Angela (Angel, he calls her).

What do you think? How do you choose your names for your female characters? What are your favorites?

Cheryl's Amazon Author Page:
https://www.amazon.com/author/cherylpierson

In this excerpt, widow Angela Bentley has taken in a wounded stranger and the three children who are with him on a cold, snowy night. Here’s what happens:

FROM “A NIGHT FOR MIRACLES”:

Angela placed the whiskey-damp cloth against the jagged wound. The man flinched, but held himself hard against the pain. Finally, he opened his eyes. She looked into his sun-bronzed face, his deep blue gaze burning with a startling, compelling intensity as he watched her. He moistened his lips, reminding Angela that she should give him a drink. She laid the cloth in a bowl and turned to pour the water into the cup she’d brought.

He spoke first. “What…what’s your name?” His voice was raspy with pain, but held an underlying tone of gentleness. As if he were apologizing for putting her to this trouble, she thought. The sound of it comforted her. She didn’t know why, and she didn’t want to think about it. He’d be leaving soon.

“Angela.” She lifted his head and gently pressed the metal cup to his lips. “Angela Bentley.”
He took two deep swallows of the water. “Angel,” he said, as she drew the cup away and set it on the nightstand. “It fits.”

She looked down, unsure of the compliment and suddenly nervous. She walked to the low oak chest to retrieve the bandaging and dishpan. “And you are…”

“Nick Dalton, ma’am.” His eyes slid shut as she whirled to face him. A cynical smile touched his lips. “I see…you’ve heard of me.”

A killer. A gunfighter. A ruthless mercenary. What was he doing with these children? She’d heard of him, all right, bits and pieces, whispers at the back fence. Gossip, mainly. And the stories consisted of such variation there was no telling what was true and what wasn’t.

She’d heard. She just hadn’t expected him to be so handsome. Hadn’t expected to see kindness in his eyes. Hadn’t expected to have him show up on her doorstep carrying a piece of lead in him, and with three children in tow. She forced herself to respond through stiff lips. “Heard of you? Who hasn’t?”

He met her challenging stare. “I mean you no harm.”

She remained silent, and he closed his eyes once more. His hands rested on the edge of the sheet, and Angela noticed the traces of blood on his left thumb and index finger. He’d tried to stem the blood flow from his right side as he rode. “I’m only human, it seems, after all,” he muttered huskily. “Not a legend tonight. Just a man.”

He was too badly injured to be a threat, and somehow, looking into his face, she found herself trusting him despite his fearsome reputation. She kept her expression blank and approached the bed with the dishpan and the bandaging tucked beneath her arm. She fought off the wave of compassion that threatened to engulf her. It was too dangerous. When she spoke, her tone was curt. “A soldier of fortune, from what I hear.”

He gave a faint smile. “Things aren’t always what they seem, Miss Bentley.”



19 comments:

  1. Cheryl, for historicals, I use family names from that era. Contemporary names are harder for me. Nice post.

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  2. Hey Caroline, that's a great idea! I did use some of my family names in my short stories. In one I just wrote for the Wolf Creek series anthology, I used my great grandmother's name. I name my characters about as carefully as I would my children. LOL

    Glad you enjoyed the post!
    Cheryl

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  3. Cheryl--another very good teaching post. Names...they're so important--you hit the nail on the head there. I secretly call a few people I know by another name because their name does not fit them.
    This reminds me of my current WIP and the names I have for the H/H. I've tried to change one, but just can't. They are Lee and Emilie. See? This is probably not good...but THOSE ARE THEIR NAMES!
    Haha. Yes, Lee King was Lee King back in Texas Blue, my first WH. He made a short appearance as a 3-yr-old little brother to Dalton King. See? That's his name--it's on a genealogy chart and everything.
    The female--I began writing about her, and she appeared as a tall lithe woman,not many curves, and yes...she was Emilie. If she were homely, I'd name her something else--can't say what because someone I know might have that name! But she's passably pretty--not gorgeous, but absolutely pretty.

    I wonder why names were so unattractive in the early 20th Century. My mother--Beaulah Modene, my husband's mother--Ora Hortense. But each of them chose very good names for all their children. Odd, isn't it?

    Jessica's photo is just gorgeous--and yes, she is a Jessica.
    Thanks for this interesing material.

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  4. Hey Celia! Names are my passion. LOL I remember when I was a little girl buying a book of baby names when my sister was pregnant and trying to help her pick out the most perfect name. My mom wanted me to name Jessica "Elizabeth"--that was her mom's middle name, and also my older sister's middle name and my niece's middle name. Gary had already said, if the baby was a girl he wanted to name her Jessica. I liked that name too. Mom always would say (right after she was born) "I always want to call her Elizabeth." It didn't help that my cousin and his wife had a baby girl 2 -3 days after Jessica and they named HER Elizabeth. LOL

    Gary's middle name is Lee. That was a very popular name back in the day. His dad's name was Lee (first name).I've done that once--where I named a minor character something and then later on thought, "Gosh. I would like to do a story about him, but I'm not crazy about his name." LOL Don't you hate it when that happens? But Lee isn't bad. If there's a story I'm reading and the name is one I just can't stomach, I substitute a name I like every time I come to it. I started a good book one time where the hero was named Roland. I just couldn't get into that name. So I thought of a different name every time I came to it. You're right--names of the past are sometimes just so atrocious you wonder how a parent could do that to a little child. My mom's name (we found this out years later, when she had already gone into stages of Altzheimer's) was Wanda Lou. She hated it so much that when the courthouse burned, she had my aunt go with her and sign a paper stating that she had known Mom all of her life, and when Mom signed her name, she signed it El Wanda and that's what she went by from then on.

    Thanks for the kind words about my baby girl. LOL I'm prejudiced. One last note--we couldn't think of a middle name to go with Jessica. But just before she was born, my niece told me she'd been watching a show on tv and girl on there was named SHEA and she thought that was a gorgeous name. When she said that, Gary and I looked at each other and we knew that was "it". He always teased her and said he named her after Shea Stadium. LOL
    Cheryl

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  5. Great pointers about hnames for heroines. I have used the historical names site to choose names, also Romanian names for my Gypsy ladies. although I used names of my family in The Violin because it was about them, I did have to locate a name for Genevieve. I remembered a kid I knew in my elementary school who always seemed so sad and lonely and her name was Genevieve. I thought it was a lovely name.
    I like your point about the emotional connection with names. What a terrific blog.
    I think Jessica has your beautiful eyes. She's such a pretty girl.
    A Night for Miracles is one of my favorite stories by you. I can see where your love of nursing is might handy since your heroes are usually half dead by the second page. LOL
    It's always a pleasure to read your blogs.

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  6. SARAH!!! I'm always so happy to see you whenever I blog. I like those historical name sites and baby name sites too. I love Genevieve--that's a gorgeous name.AW, thanks so much about my baby girl. My side of the family thinks she looks like me, but Gary's side thinks she looks like him. LOL Same with Casey. I'm so glad to know you enjoyed A NIGHT FOR MIRACLES so much. Yes, my heroes are always half dead but they make a miraculous recovery!!! LOL Thanks so much for coming by!
    Hugs,
    Cheryl

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  7. You hit a couple of things with me. My name is Marlene and my girlfriend Helene kept calling me Mar and I did the same thing and told her if she didn't stop it I would call her Hell. My mother overheard me and I guess she just about split trying not to laugh where we would hear her.

    I choose names from our family tree because I can find the right names for the time period I write in. I hate conflict, but I have to admit that my great grandmother asked my mother, in front of me when I was four years old, why I was such an ugly child. At that time I was darn adorable if you ask me. I never forgot so when I needed a villianess I used her in my first two stories I wrote. So when I wrote Night Angel I had to give her a good reason for being such a bad person. She ended up being my favorite heroine so great grandma ended up getting her revenge a second time - but this time it was much nicer.

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  8. Paisley, that is so odd that you'd have a friend with a name so similar to yours, isn't it? That's funny you thought of that--calling her Hell. LOL I bet your mom got a huge laugh out of that! LOL

    I have to say, your great grandmother must have been demented to ask such a thing of a parent of her child! And in front of you, especially. That is nothing but cruel. I can only imagine what your poor mother must have felt. I don't blame you for making that woman your model for your villainess. That's just plain mean. My great grandmother was one of those people who would pat way too hard when she hugged you. I hated to get hugged by her because it almost felt like she was giving you a spanking when she'd pat you. LOL Thanks for coming by--I'm glad you enjoyed the post!
    Cheryl

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  9. What a wonderful post! Thank you for sharing. I'm just a reader, but I really enjoy this blog. It's also a great place to look for new book recommendations.

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  10. Cheryl, I really enjoyed those lists of the most popular names in different time periods. It's also fun learning how you choose names. My characters' names seem to pop into my head uninvited. Sometimes I change them, such as with Tye in Dashing Druid. He was originally Rafe, but that has been so overused that I decided not to use it.

    Strangely, when hubby and I were choosing a name for our son, I chose Daniel, and he went along with me. Years later I found out Daniel was my grandfather's middle name. I'm sure it was my psychic side at work!

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  11. Excellent post, Cheryl. And I so love the name Cora! For secondary historical characters, I try to use family names if they aren't too awful: Olga and Huldah and Oscar come to mind as awful. (Sorry, no offense to anybody out there). Others I found acceptable are Katie and Ned and Stella for secondaries.

    That said, many of the heroines in my contemps are named for family such as Rachel and Christy and Malie.

    Good one!

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  12. Excellent post and very informative. I love figuring out names for my characters but I'll consider some of these tips the next time.

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  13. Hi Natalija!
    You are the most important part of our writing--so don't say you're "just" a reader! Without you, where would the writers be?LOL I'm so glad you stopped by and commented. I hope you will come back often--there's always something new and different going on here at Sweethearts of the West, and we are so glad to have you with us.
    Cheryl

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  14. Lyn...that gives me goosebumps. The same thing happened to me! When I was pregnant with my son, Casey, Gary had said I could name him since HE named our daughter, Jessica. My first two choices were Casey and Michael. He didn't like Michael, but really liked Casey (this was the year when everyone named their daughters Casey, but we didn't find that out until later...) Anyhow, when Casey was about three, we had gone to a family reunion, and there were some people that we didn't normally see there. My dad's sister and their cousin, Eloise, were there and they were talking along with some of the older women. One of them called me over and said, "I'm so glad you named Casey a family name!" Another one chimes in, "Yes, me too. Very nice that you honored our ancestors from Ireland." I was too embarrassed to ask about it so I smiled and nodded and acted like I knew what they were talking about. It turned out, I later learned, that my 6 or 7x great grandparents had come over on the boat from Ireland. His name was James Casey. My aunt had gotten on ancestry . com and found a copy of the ship's passenger list and they listed on there. They disembarked in NY and made their way west. (Of course, the other part of that story is that the other half of my family was here in Indian Territory to meet them and that's where part of our Indian heritage comes in.) LOL Anyhow, I just felt very odd after that, because I've always felt there was a reason I went with Casey and didn't fight for Michael very hard. LOL

    Also, I used Rafe in one of my novels, and thought I was being original, but then it seemed like I read a bunch of books right after it had gone to print that the hero was named "Rafe" in too. LOL Can't win sometimes.

    Thanks for commenting. I'm so glad to know that this weird naming thing happened to someone else besides me.

    Cheryl

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  15. Tanya, some of those older names were so awful, weren't they? Claude Wayne, Delbert, Hortense...my Lord, there were some really ugly names out there. I always loved the name Malia. I grew up with a girl named Malia--her mother was Polynesian.Very different, and pretty. My niece named her little girl Milana, which I like, too. Thanks for commenting--I know you're busy!
    Cheryl

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  16. Ciara, that's half the fun, isn't it? Trying to come up with the very perfect name for the personality you are working with. I love doing that, too. Good to have you with us here at Sweethearts of the West!
    Cheryl

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  17. Cheryl, I loved your post. And it is true how names of characters resonate with us. And your excerpt is so wonderful, that I just went and bought the book. Cannot WAIT to read it!! :) Ashley

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  18. Ashley! That is so sweet of you, and I hope you love this book--it was a Christmas story, but I still love Christmas stories all year round. LOL Congratulations on your time travel book! It sounds like it's doing awesome, and of course, I am crazy about time travel so here I go to the kindle! LOL Thanks for coming by Ashley with all you have going on right now!
    Cheryl

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