Friday, January 29, 2016

THE NAME GAME by CHERYL PIERSON

I am a collector of names. Have been, ever since I was a kid. Probably because I always wished for a different one, myself. Mine wasn’t really exotic, but it was…different. Cheryl. My parents decided on the pronunciation of “Chair-yl” rather than the more common way of saying it. The way a million other people sad it…with a “SH” sound, “Sheryl,” rather than the hard “CH” sound.

So when I began writing, I knew my characters had to have ‘good’ names—names that fit. Names that weren’t too strange, but not too common. Names that were appropriate for the time period, the setting, and the culture.

The hero, of course, had to have a name that was also something that could be whispered by the heroine in the throes of passion, yet something that would be tough enough on the villain’s lips to strike a modicum of fear in his heart, just by uttering it.

Because I was writing historical western romance, I decided to pull up a chart that would give me an accurate “slice of life”—possible names for my heroes. According to US Social Security records, the top ten names for men in 1880 were: John, William, James, Charles, George, Frank, Joseph, Thomas, Henry, and Robert.

Okay, I could maybe work with the top four. In fact, the first book I ever wrote was about a gunslinger of this time period called ‘Johnny Starr.’

And William could be shortened to ‘Will’—still masculine; but never ‘Willie.’ James—very masculine, and unwittingly, calls up the rest of the line—‘Bond. James Bond.’ At least, it does for me. I could even go with Jamie. Charles is pushing it. George, Frank, and Joe are names I have and would use for a minor character, but I’d never use those for my hero. They’re somehow just too ordinary. Thomas? Again, a great secondary character name, but not a show-stopper. Henry…eh. And Robert is just ‘okay.’

I fast-forwarded a hundred years to 1980. Here are the top 10: Michael, Christopher, Jason, David, James, Matthew, Joshua, John, Robert, and Joseph. Four of the same names were there, though not in the same poll position. By 2008, only William remained in the top 10. John had fallen to #20, James to #17, Joseph to #13. The others had been replaced, not all by modern names, but most in the top 10 were surprisingly “old fashioned.”

2008: Jacob, Michael, Ethan, Joshua, Daniel, Alexander, Anthony, William, Christopher, Matthew.

This told me something. If you aren’t too wild with the names you choose, you have quite a lot of choices! We know that Jacob, Michael, Joshua, Daniel, and Matthew were Biblical names. Just because they weren’t on the “top 10” list in 1880 doesn’t mean they weren’t being used—a lot!

Another source of names for that time period is family records. If you go back through old family documents, it’s amazing to find some of the odd names that cropped up.

Still maybe not ‘protagonist’ material, but your secondary characters could benefit. And who knows? You may find the perfect ‘hero’ name!

No matter what you choose, remember these rules, too:

1. Sound and compatibility—Say your character’s name aloud. Does the first name go well with the last name you’re using? Be careful about running the name together—“Alan Nickerson” or “Dick Keller” may not be good choices. Avoid rhyming names such as “Wayne Payne”—and try to stay away from cutesy names that might make your hero the focus of ridicule.
2. Uniqueness—I’m sure my parents were only trying to be ‘unique’ by pronouncing my name differently than the other 99.9% of the people in the world would automatically say it, but you don’t want your hero to have such an odd name that readers trip over it every time they come to it. Louis L’Amour was a master at coming up with ‘different’ names that were simple. Hondo Lane, Ring Sackett, Shalako, Conagher…and the list goes on.
3. Genealogy—Does it play into your characters’ storyline? If so, you may want to come up with a neat twist somehow on a common name. In my first manuscript, Brandon’s Gold, the gunfighter, Johnny Starr, is named for his father, but the names are reversed. His father was Thomas Jonathan Brandon. He is known as Thomas in the story. Johnny was named Jonathan Thomas Brandon. He goes by Johnny. This keeps a theme alive in my story of the ‘fathers and sons’ of this family, and their relationships. It weighs heavily, because Thomas is dying, but Johnny doesn’t know it. They’ve been estranged for many years.

When Johnny’s own son is born, his wife, Katie, changes the name they’ve decided on just before the birth. She makes Johnny promise to name him after himself and his father, Thomas Jonathan, bringing the circle around once more, and also completing the forgiveness between Johnny and his dying father.

4. Meaning—This might somehow play into your story and is good to keep track of. What do your characters’ names mean? This is a great tool to have at your disposal when you are writing—it can be a great conversation piece somewhere, or explain why your villain is so evil.
5. Nicknames and initials—this can be more important than you think. You may need to have your hero sign something or initial something. Don’t make him be embarrassed to write his initials and don’t give him a name that might be shortened to an embarrassing nickname.

In my book, FIRE EYES, the protagonist has an odd name—Kaedon Turner. I gave him an unusual first name to go with a common last name. I learned later that Caden, shortened to Cade, though not common for the time was not unheard of. Kaedon, shortened to Kaed, was just a different variation. It sets him apart from the other marshals, and emphasizes his unique past in a subtle way.

In my recent contemporary release, SWEET DANGER, my protagonist is half Choctaw Indian. His name reflects both cultures; his Anglo, (Jesse) and his Choctaw, (Nightwalker).

Below are some excerpts from Fire Eyes, available now through TWRP, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. I hope you enjoy!

EXCERPTS FROM FIRE EYES:

Marshal Kaed Turner has just been delivered to Jessica’s doorstep, wounded and unconscious by the Choctaw Indians. This is part of their first conversation, Kaed’s introduction.

“Just pull.” Her patient moistened his lips. “Straight up. That’s how it went in.”

She wanted to weep at the steel in his voice, wanted to comfort him, to tell him she’d make it quick. But, of course, quick would never be fast enough to be painless. And how could she offer comfort when she didn’t even know what to call him, other than Turner?

“You waitin’ on a…invitation?” A faint smile touched his battered mouth. “I’m fresh out.”

Jessica reached for the tin star. Her fingers closed around the uneven edges of it. No. She couldn’t wait any longer. “What’s your name?” Her voice came out jagged, like the metal she touched.
His bruised eyes slitted as he studied her a moment. “Turner. Kaedon Turner.”

Jessica sighed. “Well, Kaedon Turner, you’ve probably been a lot better places in your life than this. Take a deep breath and try not to move.”

He gave a wry chuckle, letting his eyes drift completely closed. “Do it fast. I’ll be okay.”
She nodded, even though she knew he couldn’t see her. “Ready?”

“Go ahead.”

*******

From Kaed’s POV—Finding out his “angel’s” name!

“I need to stop the bleeding. You were lucky.”

“One lucky sonofabitch.”

“I meant, because it went all the way through. So we don’t have to…to dig it out.” There was that hesitation again, but he already knew what it was she didn’t want to have to say to him. He said it instead.

“All we have to do is burn it.”

She let her breath out in a rush, as if she’d been holding it, dreading just how she was going to tell him. “Right. Sounds like the voice of experience.”

“Yeah.”

She touched his good arm and he reached up for her, his warm, bronze hand swallowing her smaller one. Her fingers were cold, and he could tell she was afraid, no matter how indifferent she tried to act.
“You’ve got one on me,” he muttered.

“What’s that?”

“Your name. Or, do I just call you angel?”

He felt the smile again, knew he had embarrassed her a little, but had pleased her as well.

“Jessica Monroe, at your service, Mr. Turner.”

“Don’t go all formal on me.” He paused, collecting his scattering, hard-to-hold thoughts. “I like Kaed better.”

“Better than Mr. Turner?”

He opened his eyes a crack and watched as she gave him a measuring look, her cinnamon gaze holding his probing stare for a moment. “What you’re doin’ for me warrants a little more intimacy, don’t’cha think, Jessica?”

She glanced back down at the seeping wound, worrying her lower lip between even, white teeth. Her auburn hair did its best to escape its bun.

Kaed’s thoughts jumped and swirled as he tried to focus on her, wondering disjointedly how she’d look if she let her hair tumble free and unbound. And her eyes. Beautiful. A man could get lost in the secrets of her eyes.

Maybe he should’ve used a word other than intimacy.

Available at Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Fire-Eyes-Cheryl-Pierson-ebook/dp/B00JTAFTPS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1454088781&sr=8-1&keywords=Fire+eyes+by+Cheryl+Pierson

10 comments:

  1. I keep a list of potential names that pop into my head at odd moments. The list also includes names I've heard or read that are intriguing in one way or another. For every single one of the names, I look up the meaning, just so I know. Things like name meanings can influence character traits in subtle ways, even if readers don't realize what's going on.

    Despite the list, I have trouble naming characters every time. :-D

    Your name fits you, Chair-rill...but I still like Okie better. :-P

    FIRE EYES remains one of my favorites among your books. Can't wait to read about your next "3/4-dead-before-the-story-starts" hero. ;-)

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    1. I remember when I named Rafe in Time Plains Drifter...one of the people who reviewed it said, "I'm getting so SICK of that name in romance novels!" LOL Here I thought I had picked a really GOOD name for him! Just goes to show, you can't please everyone. I have trouble too--as you well know with my "Johnny" hang up. If I can't think of the name I want to use for sure before I start writing a story, I insert "Johnny" until I come up with the name I need. LOL Thanks for the kind words, Kathleen--and thanks for stopping by. I got off schedule, lost a day somewhere and was thinking today was the 28th...It's so hard to get old. LOL
      Cheryl

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  2. Ii didn't know you pronounced your name Chair-ill! Didn't somebody use that recently in a story? I find naming characters is one of the more challenging things about writing (my husband says I'm terrible at it). These are all good tips. Sometimes I used Master List of Names for a particular time period. And as for not having an unusual name, I bet you spend a good deal of your time correcting the unusual pronunciation!I lumbered my daughter with an unusual first name, and that plus the fact everyone wants to spell our last name "Cruz" means she has to spend a lot of time explaining herself.

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    1. Hi, Patti! YES. When I was younger, I did spend a lot of time correcting people. Because really, when you grow up being called something by everyone who knows you, that IS your pronunciation of your name, even though it might be spelled the same as most people pronounce it in a different way. But now, when I go to the doctor or dentist, or whatever, I make sure they know it's CHair-yl. Because it's really hard for me to be able to relate to someone who is calling me by a name that is not mine. SHEESH. That's why I named my daughter JESSICA. LOL And I'm always really careful about people's names--spelling and pronunciations, I guess because I know how it is to have one that's "hard". Thanks for coming by, Patti!
      Cheryl

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  3. You've hit on one of my favorite topics...names. I, too, think names are so very important. Fire Eyes--your first, and in retrospect, probably your very best. All your books are very good--I know because I've read all of them. But Fire Eyes will always stand out.
    You may have heard me say this, but old cemeteries do provide some great names. My sisters and I searched for the grave site of our great-Uncle Lum. We thought that was his name, since it's the only one we'd ever heard and seen written. But while searching in the Parker Country cemetery, I...yes I!..discovered a headstone that read: Americus Columbus Davis. Correct birthdate and death..Uncle LUM!
    Rhett Butler. What else could be his name except "Rhett." A made-up name? I never knew for sure, but perfect for the hero.
    One name I saw on a nurse's name tag--Lailani, pronounced "Lay-Lah-nee." I've never used it because I do know we shouldn't use names readers cannot pronounce. But isn't it pretty? And she was, too.
    Thanks for this wonderful bit of information. My name? Celia Ann...means Heavenly Grace. Sigh, if only.

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    1. Oh, Celia, I SO agree--what else could Rhett have been called? I can't think of anything more perfect than RHETT. That is a very cool story about your Uncle Lum. Amazing, isn't it? I'm so glad you found the tombstone and put it all together about his name, etc.

      As for Lailani--my mom used to sing a song: "Sweet Lailani, heavenly flower..." can't remember the words. But she loved that song and I think she'd have used that for a name if she hadn't thought it was too out there--Hawaii became a state 2 years after I was born. So even though they might not have gone THAT far, they didn't have any problem with CHAIR-yl. LOL I know what you mean about name meanings. My name means "Little Womanly One"--BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! There was never a bigger tomboy born!

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  4. I love naming my characters--even the villains. It's almost as much fun as naming kids. I have done some of the things you mentioned like looking up names popular to the time period in which I'm writing. I like the somewhat unusual names from those days like Eustace and Jedidiah.
    I have to confess, I have used names for villains from people I don't like, either first or last, but not both together.
    I love old fashioned bible names. How can you go wrong with those? I also like some that are whimsical like Blossom. Although I have named a hero Harry, I would never name a hero Harold--that would be good only. for a villain. Don't know why exactly.
    Ohmagosh, I would have never thought to rhyme a first name with a last name.
    I loved Fire Eyes. Great story with a wonderfully evil villain.
    Wonderful blog and helpful hints about names, Cheryl.

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    1. Sarah, thanks for coming by today! I mentioned earlier, I am a day late, and for that I apologize! Getting older and more forgetful, I guess.

      I have done that with my villains, too, Sarah. There's just something that gives us pleasure in being able to use the name of someone as a villain who has wronged us, or that we don't like for whatever reason.

      I'm so glad to know how much you loved Fire Eyes. I love it, too. It's my baby--and probably will always remain my favorite book I ever wrote. So glad you enjoyed the blog, Sarah. You always do great with your names!
      Cheryl

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  5. Names are super important to me. I use Biblical names and the same as you, look for names of the era. Nice post, Cheryl. (In my head I said it right.)

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    1. Caroline, you said it right here, too. LOL Thanks for stopping by!

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