Friday, September 13, 2013

Author James R. Callan: THE NAME GAME--SOME WIN; SOME LOSE



By James R. Callan

A Rose by any other name –

- would still have thorns.  What’s in a name?  If it’s the name of one of your characters, it could be important. The right name can point the reader in the direction you choose.

Years ago, I hate to admit, I would pull down an old phone directory, open it at random, and grab a name.  Or maybe I’d get the first name from one entry and the last name from another.  I put no thought into what impression I wanted to give. Suppose Margaret Mitchell had named her protagonist Jane Smith? Would we have started with a different mental image than we did when we read about Scarlett O’Hara?

Consider the names used by J.K. Rowling in her immensely successful Harry Potter books.  Sirius Black, Ron Wesley, Griphook, Nymphadora Tonks, Draco Malfoy. She didn’t find those in my telephone book. Nor did they just pop off her tongue. She obviously put in some time to select just the right name for the character. Harry Potter? She wanted a rather ordinary name for Harry, not only as a contrast to the others, but also to match his perception of himself.

You can select a name that compliments some characteristic of your character. Ian Fleming named his antagonist in The Richest Man in the World Auric Goldfinger.  Matt Baron, principal character in Jory Sherman’s Grass Kingdom has many of the qualities we associate with a baron.  Donn Taylor’s book Deadly Additive has a character named Brinkman, who operates on the brink.  Was that name an accident?  I doubt it.

This attention to names should also apply to the names of fictitious places. Sometimes, the name can be a contrast to the character or place.  David Balcacci in his book Divine Justice names a town “Divine” to contrast to the true nature of the place.

If you are writing historical novels, where do you get good names?  Forget the phone book.  There may not have been phones then.  But, the U.S. Social Security Administration maintains a website that will give you the most popular names for babies born in each year since 1879.  The URL for the site is:  www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames.  It lists the top 500 names for boys and the top 500 names for girls for each year.  You can also elect to get those names by state.

Another site, www.babyzone.com/baby-names/ , will give you the meanings and origins of names. They’ll also provide names by categories, such as “old lady names,” or “billionaire names.”  And there is www.babynames.co.uk if you want a more British name.

If it seems appropriate for your book, you can simply make up a name.  And anything goes.  I read only yesterday of a man whose first name was Dependent.  And actress Shannyn Sossamon’s son was named Audio Science.  Frank Zappa named his daughter Moon Unit.  There are no limits.

So, what will you name your characters?  It’s your choice.  All I’m suggesting is that you give some serious thought to selecting names for your characters and places. Don’t just grab a name and go with it. Consider what first impression the reader will get from the name. Consider what feeling throughout the book the reader will have from the name you chose.


And remember the advice from Proverbs: “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches…”A Rose by any other name –

- would still have thorns.  What’s in a name?  If it’s the name of one of your characters, it could be important. The right name can point the reader in the direction you choose.

Years ago, I hate to admit, I would pull down an old phone directory, open it at random, and grab a name.  Or maybe I’d get the first name from one entry and the last name from another.  I put no thought into what impression I wanted to give. Suppose Margaret Mitchell had named her protagonist Jane Smith? Would we have started with a different mental image than we did when we read about Scarlett O’Hara?

Consider the names used by J.K. Rowling in her immensely successful Harry Potter books.  Sirius Black, Ron Wesley, Griphook, Nymphadora Tonks, Draco Malfoy. She didn’t find those in my telephone book. Nor did they just pop off her tongue. She obviously put in some time to select just the right name for the character. Harry Potter? She wanted a rather ordinary name for Harry, not only as a contrast to the others, but also to match his perception of himself.

You can select a name that compliments some characteristic of your character. Ian Fleming named his antagonist in The Richest Man in the World Auric Goldfinger.  Matt Baron, principal character in Jory Sherman’s Grass Kingdom has many of the qualities we associate with a baron.  Donn Taylor’s book Deadly Additive has a character named Brinkman, who operates on the brink.  Was that name an accident?  I doubt it.

This attention to names should also apply to the names of fictitious places. Sometimes, the name can be a contrast to the character or place.  David Balcacci in his book Divine Justice names a town “Divine” to contrast to the true nature of the place.

If you are writing historical novels, where do you get good names?  Forget the phone book.  There may not have been phones then.  But, the U.S. Social Security Administration maintains a website that will give you the most popular names for babies born in each year since 1879.  The URL for the site is:  www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames.  It lists the top 500 names for boys and the top 500 names for girls for each year.  You can also elect to get those names by state.

Another site, www.babyzone.com/baby-names/ , will give you the meanings and origins of names. They’ll also provide names by categories, such as “old lady names,” or “billionaire names.”  And there is www.babynames.co.uk if you want a more British name.

If it seems appropriate for your book, you can simply make up a name.  And anything goes.  I read only yesterday of a man whose first name was Dependent.  And actress Shannyn Sossamon’s son was named Audio Science.  Frank Zappa named his daughter Moon Unit.  There are no limits.

So, what will you name your characters?  It’s your choice.  All I’m suggesting is that you give some serious thought to selecting names for your characters and places. Don’t just grab a name and go with it. Consider what first impression the reader will get from the name. Consider what feeling throughout the book the reader will have from the name you chose.

And remember the advice from Proverbs: “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches…”




A Ton of Gold
A contemporary mystery / suspense novel

Can long forgotten, old folk tales affect the lives of people today? In A Ton of Gold, one certainly affected young, brilliant Crystal Moore.  Two people are killed, others threatened, a house burned and an office fire-bombed – all because of an old folk tale, greed and ignorance. 

On top of that, the man who nearly destroyed Crystal emotionally is coming back.  This time he can put an end to her career.  She’ll need all the help she can get from a former bull rider, her streetwise housemate and her feisty 76 year-old grandmother.

A Ton of Gold
By James R. Callan
From Oak Tree Press,  2013

On Amazon, in paperback, at:  http://amzn.to/UQrqsZ 
Or the Kindle edition at:  http://amzn.to/12PeHJb    
Or from Oak Tree Press at:  http://bit.ly/WJXcWl 


Website:          www.jamesrcallan.com
Blog site:         www.jamesrcallan.com/blog
Book website: www.atonofgold.com



Meet James R. Callan

After a successful career in mathematics and computer science, receiving grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA, and being listed in Who’s Who in Computer Science and Two Thousand Notable Americans, James R. Callan turned to his first love—writing.  He wrote a monthly column for a national magazine for two years, and published several non-fiction books.  He now concentrates on his favorite genre, mystery/suspense, with his fifth book released in 2013.