Writerly Navel-Gazing ~ Week 3: Question 3

Part of the 30 Week Writing Challenge. Click here to view all questions.

3. How do you come up with names, for characters (and for places if you’re writing about fictional places)?

Coming up with names for my characters is undoubtedly one of my least favourite parts in the whole writing process. I’ve actually written a blog post before on just how difficult this is for me (see La Pomme d’Or).

To quote myself, my process for naming my characters is to “pluck or steal names from all over the shop — friends, colleagues, other people’s characters, gravestones etc. — stick ’em on your character’s forehead like a post-it note and hope that nobody notices your crippling lack of imagination.”

The most original name I have in my current WIP* is ‘Jaspher’, and I didn’t even come up with that one by myself; K.F. Goodacre suggested it to me when I asked if she could think of any good male names beginning with J, and I wasn’t too keen on the name Jasper because it sounded like a dog.

K.F. Goodacre also wishes it to be known that I have even stolen names from her current WIP. I named a counterfeit company — ‘Spindle & Burr’ — after two of her four main characters, Spindle and Burr Larkspur. She says stolen. I say I’m paying homage to her.

Place names I find much easier to come up with and also lot more fun. In The Mayor I have a lot of ports and shipping towns, which will usually always end in words like ‘Town’, ‘Cay’, ‘Cove’ etc. to denote what kind of place it is. All I have to do then is put a name or word in front of it, usually a throwback to an existing town or pirate stronghold from the 17th/18th century. Some examples:

  • ‘Marianne’s Cay’ is so named in my book because a woman named Marianne was drowned there. This was inspired by the real-life location Rackham’s Cay where the pirate Calico Jack Rackham was executed.
  • The name of a pirate stronghold in my book — ‘Fortuna’ — is derived from the real-life pirate stronghold of New Providence (‘providence’ and ‘fortune’ mean the same thing).

For the Kintaronese ports that John visits on his travels, I look up actual real-world locations from Ancient Egypt (which the city and culture of Kintaro is loosely based on) and bastardise the name to include a hard ‘cuh’ combined with soft ‘ma’ and ‘shh’ sounds which are typically Kintaronese. For example:

  • The real-world locations of Abu Simbel and Luxor together become ‘Kimbel’ and ‘Maru Huxor’ in my book.

 

S.E. Berrow


* WIP = work in progress, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the acronym.

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