Questions? We’ve got ’em!

This week I buckled down to writing Veronica #3 in earnest and have written two chapters in two days. (YAY!) It’s been such a good start that I completely forgot to write a post yesterday. So, belatedly, here you go:

Last week I thought I’d ask Twitter if they had questions–just general process type stuff. And goodness me! I got some great ones. Kicking us off is Carin who asked a deceptively simple question: “How do you name your characters?

The short answer is that there IS no answer. I have numerous tricks but no real method. I do know that if a name doesn’t suit a principal character, I have difficulty in “getting” them as a character. (This isn’t an issue with minor people. I’m more flexible with them.) Here are some random thoughts about naming:

*Each of my books has featured a name that is an homage to Agatha Christie. Pennyfeather, Lestrange, some of my favorite names I discovered in Christie’s books. Sometimes they are mentioned only once in passing; sometimes they are more prominent. I think of them as Easter eggs for diehard Christie fans.

*I scan the credits of British TV programs and films. There are some GEMS tucked away there. I never use a name in its entirety, but I will grab a surname from one spot and a given name from another.

*I Google major character names to make sure they’re not already in use by another author or belong to an actual human. It avoids awkwardness.

*I sometimes tuck jokes into names. Ryder White, the lead male character in A SPEAR OF SUMMER GRASS, is a professional big game hunter. He’s also lost his stomach for it and is shifting into conservation–the exact opposite of what the ‘great white hunter’ is supposed to do. It’s a tongue-in-cheek reference to the attitudes Ryder hates. Veronica Speedwell is a botanical joke because Speedwell is the common name of the plant called Veronica.

*I occasionally use a recognizable name as a springboard. I happened to be rereading COLD COMFORT FARM when I was preparing to write CITY OF JASMINE. Much as I would have loved to have used Starkadder, it was just too unique. I shortened it to Stark and used that for the name of my main female character.

*I lean towards feminine names for my heroines. Because I write historicals, I don’t have as much leeway as contemporary authors for curious or unisex names. Julia, Theodora, Evangeline, Delilah, Penelope (Poppy), Veronica–they are all period-appropriate but not nearly as common these days as Madison and Mackenzie and MacGyver or whatever people are calling their kids.

*I often choose simple last names. Grey, Stark, White, March. Since I enjoy longer given names, a short surname is essential.

*Occasionally, names are a clue to the character’s personality. Brisbane is Old French for “breaker of bones”. Appropriate.

*Sometimes I break all my own rules. Stoker, known properly as The Honourable Revelstoke Templeton-Vane, has the most gloriously lengthy name of any of my characters and it suits him. I keep a list of fabulous names that I add to continually. Some names never get used; some get used years after I hear them. I first heard Stoker’s nickname in a book by the Duchess of Devonshire–it was the nickname of her son, Peregrine.