Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Race Car Driver By Any Other Name...

posted by Aunty Cindy

Since my DH is a lifelong auto racing enthusiast, I've become a fan through osmosis. This Memorial Day weekend, we were actually home for a change, and watched avidly as Dario Franchitti slid across the yard of bricks to win the soggy Indy 500. Then, after calling the top finishers, the announcer said something about Franchitti being only the second Scot to win the Indy 500...

SAY WHAT?!?! Dario Franchitti is a SCOT?!?!

Yet another example of real life that would never work in fiction! As all novelists know, readers presume a lot about characters based on their names, ethnicity being one of the major things. I know, I know it doesn't necessarily work that way in "real life." Nevertheless, if you are writing a novel with a Scottish character his/her name better be McSomethingOrOther or you risk alienating your readers!

So where DO writers find all those wonderfully fitting character names? Thanks to the internet and Google, first names are easy. You can find just about any ethnicity. I know because I wanted some typical Croatian names for one of my books which has a half-Croatian hero. And I found 'em, NO PROBLEM! (along with Serbian, Russian, Arabic and MORE ) Not only can you find any ethnic first name, but you can also find out which names were the most popular in any particular decade. VERY handy not just for historical settings but naming secondary characters like Great Aunt Bertha and Grandpa Edgar.

Last names can be a bit trickier. I stumbled across some great census data from Ireland by county while researching names for my latest novel set in Northern Ireland. I also like to thumb through the phone book (luckily I live in a large metropolitan area and there are LOTS of names), and there are a treasure-trove of last names in the closing credits of most movies. Some writers use names of friends for minor characters. Another writer I know says she uses the names on the spam emails she gets! Talk about recycling!

So what about YOU? If you are a writer, how do you select names for your characters? And if you're a reader, would YOU believe a Scot named Dario Franchitti?

And the WINNAH is... shari c. You are the lucky winner of Susan Grant's book How to Lose An Extraterrestrial in 10 Days. Please email your info to Joan at JKayse413 AT aol DOT com
And THANX A BUNCH for hanging out with us in the Bandit lair.


Anna Campbell said...

AC, this will surprise you, but there are a bucket load of people of Italian extraction in Scotland. I think there was quite a bit of emigration after the war. You can actually get a GREAT espresso in Glasgow! And wonderful Italian ice cream. And I've got to say the best Indian food I've ever had was in Glasgow too - there are a lot of Punjabi people there. I love it when life makes you sit up and say, "Hey, I didn't expect that!"

I laughed about names as I agonize about them. The hero of my second book is called Matthew. Well, on paper. In my heart, he was born as Titus and he remains Titus. But I was convinced by well-meaning and I think correct friends that Titus wouldn't be generally acceptable. But Untouched is still filed as Titus on my computer. Sigh. The hero of my current book is the Earl of Erith. Erith sounds really cool, huh? Sort of ancient and British. Well, I discovered it because I was reading a book on Victorian England when I was agonizing over what title I could give my hero. And one of the outfall stations for the London sewer system was in Erith in Essex. It means 'wet, muddy place' and I suspect that describes it to a T. I snicker every time I see his title although it does sound rather dashing if you don't know where it comes from! I won't tell anyone if you don't!

Keira Soleore said...

AC, the spammer idea is great, particularly if you get to choose it for the villian. Then you get to do every dastardly thing you've thought of to do to the spammer. Satisfying and therapeutic.

FoAnna, I was totally following along with oohing and aahing over Erith till you dashed my dreams to dust. Sewer system?! Think of all the fun you can have in the marketing and blogging of your book. Any more, ahem, hints about your current novel-in-progress????

Loretta Chase has me convinced that an ancient Zoroastrian (Persian) name Darius is authentic Gerogian English name. So Dario a Scot? Why not?!

FoAnna, we found curry flavored Pringles in a small roadside convenience store on the road down south from Aberdeen. No curry flavored anything here in the U.S., particularly in the Pacific Northwest.

I scan detailed maps for teeny towns and use those for last names. For first names, the Internet is always a good resource. I also use baby naming books with meanings and origins. I like to have a first name that is representative of the character, that is, the name has to "mean" something.

You can tell Keira is back, when the comments are longer than the actual posts, right? You guys just give me a forum to hold forth (and froth) at length.

Kim Howe said...

Hey AC,

Loved your post. I'm also a huge racing fan, everything from rallying to Formula One. Also, drivers have the best names. Interesting thought about Dario being a Scot hero. If you did use an Italian sounding last name, it would have to be explained up front. Still, I think it'd be a tough sale to some readers. When I think Dario, I imagine dark hair and eyes and a sexy Italian accent, not a Scottish one. ;) Thanks for the thoughtful post.

Christie Kelley said...

Loved your post, AC. Everyone who reads my backcover blurb looks at me and says where do you come up with your names. Are Avis and Banning such strange names? After living with them for three years, I'm just used to them.

The internet baby name sites are great. I found Avis on one site and liked it because it was different. I Banning on a site and the name just rolled off my tongue. One of my cps said if she had another child (a boy) she would name him Banning.

But I'm with you on last names. I struggle and struggle with them. And writing Regency set historicals, I usually need a last name and a title. Ugh! Twice the work. I do love the spam idea though.

And Anna, the hero of my second book is also named Matthew.

Caren Crane said...

Cindy, I have used the "most popular names" lists on the internet to pick first names for heroes, heroines and especially their parents and grandparents. It's easier if the characters are around my age, but if they are younger or older, I have only names of people I know who are those ages to go by. The lists really help.

For books I set in my part of the country, I use phone books, internet phone listings and, particularly, local news listings. Obituaries are great, because they usually list not only name of the deceased, but also family names (multi-generational research!). Phone books are great because you can assess the sheer volume of a certain surname and ascertain whether it's a common name in the area.

As a reader, like Kim said, I think if it's explained up front why you have a Franchitti in Scotland, I buy it. After all, people have had itchy feet since the dawn of time! *g*

Keira, we found Paprika-flavored Pringles in Switzerland. Yummy! Of course, we also found Gravy-flavored Lays in Nova Scotia. Huh? Kim, the Orange Kit Kats totally cancel out gravy-flavored potato chips! *g*

Kirsten said...

Cute post, AC. Someone will have to explain the auto racing thing to me, though. I can't imagine actually sitting there and watching cars go around in circles. Then again, I can't sit through any sporting events, so why should car racing be any different?

I didn't realize what a crappy job I was doing with names until I was writing a proposal for book two of a YA series and had to put a couple of names in a sentence together--turns out I had written an entire book with a main character named Jack and a secondary character named Mack. Oy!

To make matters worse, my other main character was Cam (Mack backwards). Funny thing is, I actually spent a significant amount of time picking those names!

Anna, guess what I renamed Mack? Titus. Small world. :-)

Joan said...

Hey, I think Titus is a GREAT name! Add a few Maximus' to it and voila....my era :-)

I use the Character Naming Sourcebook co-authored by Sherrilyn Kenyon. It was out of print for a while but I think it's back.

I look at meanings as well as ones that are not so unusual. I like the H/H's names to have some meaning to what their strengths etc are as characters. I picked Damon and one definition says it is Greek for "constant". Appropo since he has always been there for so many people in his life, serving their purpose while he longs for his own place in the scheme of things.

As to surnames, the Romans did not have them per se. Oh, no. They have to have at least THREE....try coming up with those and not sound like you're copying from "Gladiator" LOL.

As to car racing...um, I live in HORSE racing country and to my knowledge none of those thoroughbreds are from Scotland. All I knew about Dario is that he is married to Ashley Judd.

And Keira...I believe the Georgian English MAY have nabbed the PERSIAN name Darius. They seemed to enjoy that during some of those time periods :-)

Aunty Cindy said...

*AC stifles a yawn*
Morning all and thanx for your comments!

I swear I'm gonna use that spammer idea in the next book, and GREAT IDEA about villain names, Keira!

LOL, Kirsten about cars going in a circle being a sport. But when you think about it... makes as much sense as most other sports, doesn't it? And your comments about similar names sparked a memory of a discussion some friends and I had about the TV show "Lost." The gist of it was: What writer would get away with naming 3 major male characters Jack, John and James?

And yes, Joan, I knew Dario was married to Ashley Judd after seeing her on a talk show. But she never mentioned he was a Scot! And I LOVE thoroughbred racing too... Race Horse names, now THERE is an interesting topic!


Anna Sugden said...

Ah those Scots - so cosmopolitan. LOL. I admit it surprised me too - though I know it's completely feasible. Can you imagine what contest judges would make of that?

FoAnna - your comment reminded me of that great film about the Glasgow ice cream wars!

Keira - my real name is an ancient Persian one! And it was so cool to see it mentioned in Tess Gerritsen's The Mephisto Club!

Nancy said...

AC, the Italian name surprised me, too. I don't know that I'd readily believe it in a historical, but I would in a contemporary if there were an explanation like Anna Campbell's.

As for names, I have books. And books. I sort of skim over them when I'm stuck.

Keira, I love maps, too.

Foanna, I love Erith!

Cassondra said...

Okay I fess up. I'm the one who uses spam names. Or maybe Auntie C has two friends who do this? Before I delete them, I write the cool ones down in a little notebook, then I combine them as I need them. They're often ear-or eye-catching combinations, on purpose I think, to get the spamee to actually open the email.

As to the Scot, I'd believe anything. I'm as Scottish as one can get and still be born in America. I attend numerous Higland (that's HEE-land in pronunciation to you non-scots)games each year, and no matter who you are, we'll find you as a sept of some Scottish name. (grin). But I totally agree that it would be hard sell to a reader--UNLESS that was part of the character's angst or something. Hmmm. Wonder if we could make Dario or whatever his name was (that's how into racing I am) all vulnerable and angry and outcast for sake of his non-scot name or some such other torment.

Love to torment those heroes!

Oh and Keira, we miss you when you're not here!


doglady said...

Stopping by to say "Hello" as I had so much fun last time! I love the idea of using spammers as villains. There is an ASSistant at work that I could seriously work some frustrations out on if I cast him as the villain of one of my novels. Cracked up at Erith, Anna, and I like Titus actually. My hero's name is Marcus Aurelius David Winfield, Duke of Selridge, thank you very much. His late elder brother was Julius Caesar Andrew Winfield. Of course my heroine is the least prim and proper woman you will ever meet. Her name? Adelaide Guinevere Formsby-Smythe!

Anna Campbell said...

Hey, Keira, froth away (oh, dear, getting a picture of where Erith comes from, maybe not!). Actually I don't think I will be spruiking too much where his name comes from just in case I risk turning people off. But as you know, I have a very silly sense of humor, so I always get a giggle from my very sophisticated, handsome, sexy hero being named after a sewer outfall! Childish? ABSOLUTELY!

It's another courtesan book but the couple are older and more jaded than Kylemore and Verity. I like to think of it as a Regency noir Affair to Remember. Now, that's a line I will use when I'm spruiking the book!

Anna Campbell said...

Oh, Caren, paprika chips in Switzerland! Aren't they just a taste sensation????!!!! Even better than the chocolate - and that's saying something!

Anna Campbell said...

Oh, Kirsten, fantastic that Titus is getting some space in your book.

Joan, I came up with Titus from the Falco books. He's a really interesting character - so the Roman connection was actually very close!

Nancy, I hope you love Erith in the flesh. Aside from the connotations of his name, I think he's pretty sexy!

Doglady! I love the name of your hero! I don't think it was the Roman connotation that my friends objected to. I think it was some of the rude mispronunciations that people might come up with for Titus. Sigh. There was Tite-*rse (not a bad thing in a hero) or Tittus which IS a bad thing in a hero!

doglady said...

Cracking up about "Tittus" and "Titearse" !! And everyone needs to stop talking about Paprika chips! There are so many things I miss about living in England (and later Germany) and the fabulous junk food is just one of them!I was fortunate enough to live in a tiny little English village when I was a child and I have a feeling the people who still live there will recognize many familiar names in my book. I have a secondary character whose last name is Tildenbury, after the postmaster in Kelsale. Marcus and the other men in my book call him "Tillie" of course!

Helen said...

I think you authors put a lot of work into finding a name that will match the H & H in your books and to me they always work, my Grandfathers name was Oscar and my Mum asked his Mum where did you get that name from (because he was one of 11 boys) and she said that she was probably reading a book at the time that had that name in it so she used it and I am sure that there are tons of children that are named after book characters I love the more unusual names. Anna Campbell I will still be reading the book even after the sewer comment love it and the name Titus.
Have Fun

Aunty Cindy said...

LOL! Yes, Cassondra, since you outted yourself YOU ARE THE ONE! I wasn't sure if you wanted credit for your GREAT IDEA but you certainly deserve kudos for your creativity!

You too, doglady! LOVED your hero names. My Croatian hero, btw, I named Zvonimir but he went by Von. And I did have a minor character named Dario in my GH finalist manuscript. But no angst, he was an Italian police inspector. :-)

Pass the paprika chips! I LOVE paprika!

Aunty Cindy said...

OOOOO, Helen, you are RIGHT about people naming their children after characters in books. Matter of fact, I DID! Colin is the younger brother of the hero in Mary Stewart's The Moonspinners, and that was the first time I'd seen/read the name. Later, when I wanted a Celtic first name for my son, I decided Colin filled the bill quite nicely.


Keira Soleore said...

Cassondra, oh, thank you. That's very kind.

V.Anna, yes, I remember talking about your beautiful name when I first met you at the start of this blog. You had a link to a wiki about it, right? What a pedigreed name!!

Caren, paprika-spiced Pringles in Switz? :) This chip company sure understands branding and adapting to local tastes very well.

Joan, I did not know that with spread of the British Raj, names from other parts of the world were making their way into the baby-naming convention. Thanks.

Aaaargh, FoAnna, on the froth bit. And what a fab high concept.

Curried Pringles, anyone??

Suzanne Welsh said...

Okay, I have a confession to make. Back in the 80's many a young mother wanted to make-up a name for their baby. Unfortunately when they were asked to spell them, they didn't have a clue and worse, somehow they missed the principle of needing vowels. So we would sound them out, the mother and I, until we had something pronounceable. Alas, those names no one can spell and hardly pronounce...I'm partially responsible!

Given that, you'd think all my characters have odd names. Let's see,
Noah, Luke, Matt, Jake, Clint, Nathan, Micha...okay that's a little odd.

Claudia, Laura, Katie, Sami, Patrice, Abigail...

Then I took a rather jaded turn. Current WIP: Heroine, Bobby Roberts. Don't laugh, I know a man named Rob Roberts. Hero, Gage Justice.....oh yeah and he's a sheriff. Groan I know, but I chuckle every time I think about it.

Then there's secondary characters. Cleetus, Odell, Lorna Doone, (yep just like the cookie), Zeke, Lola, Moira, Kirsten (sorry Kirsten, she's a bad person), Tobias.

If I get stuck finding names, I could always just use family members if I wanted to. My dad is one of 18 and my mom one of 10.

My favorite name? Lyndsey Michelle
...spelled this way it means gently flowing and gift from God. Pretty much describes her!

Suzanne Welsh said...

Oh by the way, I'm not a racing fan, but have you seen Dario?!?!?! Mmmmmmmm, no wonder Ashley Judd married him! OMG

Anna Campbell said...

Helen, thank you!!!

AC, love those Slavic names. Keep 'em coming!

Suzanne, your favorite name comment gave me a lovely warm glow.

Keira, I've always wanted to ask you - how do you pronounce your surname? Is it Sol-eor-ee or Soleor?

Anna Sugden said...

ROFL at the alternatives for Titus. I can see your friends' point, FoAnna!

I don't have a problem with first names, my characters spring to life with a name. It's the surnames I struggle with. I've had a bit more fun with the hockey series as I can use foreign names and it makes sense. And they use a lot of nicknames so it can be fun too. My Bad Boy from Bad Boy, Good Man is Jake Badoletti.

My new hero is one of four brothers named after US presidents (grateful immigrant parents). He is Truman or Tru. I also have Eisenhower 'Ike', Kennedy 'Kenny' and Lincoln 'Linc'. I'd have preferred Nixon 'Nix', but it had too many bad associations *grin*

Of course, one of the problems with having been a school teacher is that some names have set connotations for me. Callum is the worst! The tales I could tell about the Callums I taught! And Gemmas weren't much better.

Anna Campbell said...

Anna, love the idea of the presidents!!! How clever!

Keira Soleore said...

FoAnna: It's pronounced as: Sol-ee-oh-ray.

Keira Soleore said...

Banditas: Christine is visiting the Risky Regencies this Saturday. Yay Christine!! Is this your first blog appearance? Schedule. Schedule.

Anna Campbell said...

Keira, that's really pretty!

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Great post, AC! Cassondra, we ARE seperated twins. I'm a Ferguson, a McDowell, with a few McLeod's thrown in there for good measure somewhere as well as some "non-Scots" names that actually are. :> I'd believe most any name if the explanation were worked into the text in a cool way. Joan, how about Sirius Glutius Maximus for your next character's name? Heehee. As to naming, I love Cassondra's idea about the spammers and Kiera's idea about using it for villains. Wonderful. I ususally use fun names I've picked up doing genealogy research over the years combined w/ interesting names I've seen in movie credits. I'll also look them up in the most popular name sites to see what position it holds. AC, too true about the horse names. Where DO they come up with that stuff? Ha! I love sports - even horse and car racing - but don't get car racing as much as I do some other sports. VAnna, love the president's idea, that's great. Whoever said the characters spring to life with a name that happens for me too. It's the last name I have to hunt for, usually. This was a fun topic!

Joan said...


Why don't we go in together and get a race horse!

We'll call her "Romance Bandit" and feed her hay and sugar cookies and take turns racing her across the moors.....

And I know a back door into Churchill Downs which is less that 10 miles from my house! We'd win the Derby easy (Especially with Aunty's riding crop)

Beth said...

Great post, AC! I adore picking names for my characters. I use baby naming websites for first names and the phone book for last names. Oh, and I usually pick names by deciding what letter I want the name to start with and then going from there *g*