Thursday, December 03, 2009

On names

Currently, I'm percolating a couple of stories in my head. One of them is set in the Mad, Bad & Dangerous/Almost Human world, and features a demirep heroine and a rather shady hero. She has a name--Elena--but he doesn't.

Why do I have more trouble naming male characters than female? Perhaps because there's a broader range of heroine characteristics, and names to suit, than there are male. I've written heroines who were short or tall, thin or voluptuous, bright or sharp or sweet (well, maybe not that sweet) or clever or clumsy or beautiful or shy. Whereas my heroes tend, broadly, to fall into the tall, muscular, smart, handsome, handy-with-a-weapon and handy-with-a-quip category.

And there are only so many names to suit them. Why is it that I can write a heroine with a daft name and let her grow into it, but can't quite do the same for my heroes? Although I have been known to give them embarrassing names they tend not to use (Tanner, who turned up in Almost Human, is universally known by his surname since he hates being called Leander).

Who was it who said the true test of literary worth was whether a man could name a kitten? I've named eight, and they've all grown into their names. Here's a hint: if you want to turn your male cat gay, call him Tinkerbell (I was six, and I thought he was a girl anyway). I named the next male cat Spike, in an attempt to make him manly, but he turned out to be incredibly beautiful, deadly in a rather elegant way, but really rather fond of his creature comforts and secretly loves his mummy. I realised I'd named him after my favourite vampire--well, he has white hair and eyes that are both yellow and blue--and he'd taken on extra characteristics too. Or maybe I'm just projecting.

His name is Spike. And yes, I seriously considered calling my black kittens Angel and Drusilla.

But back to character names. Some are just overused--the old Predator+Geographical Feature title for a hero (Hawksmoor, Wolfsea, Hipporiver etc). I confess I did once name a werewolf character Wolfe, and gave him a werecat heroine called Kat, but I was being ironic. Honest.

The problem with this guy is that he's a shapeshifter (well, he's a Nasc, if anyone's been reading Almost Human), and his animal is an eagle, or a hawk, or some other kind of raptor. I need a name that fits him.

I like finding names that fit a character, names that sound right out loud. For a hard, harsh character I chose Harker--he's also a man who keeps his ear to the ground, hence 'hark'. For Sophie's mentally agile and emotionally brittle lover I went with Luke Sharpe. It's a fast, cunning name, hard but not brutal, keen, acute, smart. Plus if you have a Northern accent it's actually quite funny. The hero of Almost Human was Dark, because he's dark-eyed and dark-haired, but also dark-souled, tormented and angry. Kett's feckless mate in Mad, Bad & Dangerous was Bael--a demonic name, and a homonym for bail, which is what he often needs to get out of jail. The dangerous, unpredictable mercenary of After the Fall was Carver, a name I didn't even need to think about. He's a man who is, quite simply, lethal, and won't think twice about slitting an enemy's throat (or, as Jayne from Serenity put it: "Hell, I'll kill a man in a fair fight... or if I think he's gonna start a fair fight, or if he bothers me, or if there's a woman, or if I'm gettin' paid - mostly only when I'm gettin' paid.").

So. A name for an orphan boy, born on the streets, a thief and a con, trained as a soldier, educated as a gentleman, working as a mercenary, had his memories stolen, running for his life. Oh, and he can turn into an eagle.

I'm going to end up calling him Hawke, aren't I?


  1. I like Talon...or Shade as a derivative of Shadow. Blade, I love, but makes me think of Wesley Snipes in Blade the movie. I hate when movie names infringe? Although, great writers can work around it..and Cat's a great writer.

    I love making up new you know all you have to do is harass me! Skype even. ACK. We totally need to do that. Brainstorming via Skype!

    You should have named them Angel and Drucilla :) We'd have LOVED it. :D

  2. Ah, but Talon will forever be the Celtic Dark-Hunter with the tattoos and the snarky sense of humour!

    For some reason he wants to be called Kynaston. Go figure.