Thursday, February 19, 2015

What's in a Name? ... by Patricia Smith Wood

Thanks, Patricia, for the opportunity to appear on your blog. It’s a pleasure to do a guest appearance for a writer with such a nice fan base. Besides, I have an affinity for other women named Patricia. I’m curious how and why their parents chose that particular name.

In my case, it was the “name du jour” for little girls the year I was born. The previous year’s Miss America was a “Patricia.” It had been agreed that if I was a girl, my mother got to choose the name, and her choice was Patricia. If I was a boy, my young father would choose. Because he had seen the musical movie “Show Boat” the year before, he became enamored with the riverboat gambler character. So, had I been born male, this column would be written by Gaylord Ravenal Smith. Thank God I escaped having that cross to bear throughout life.

Growing up I found an abundance of girls my age named Patricia. In my second grade class there were three besides me. I ended up as “Patsy” that year to help the teacher keep us all straight. There’s nothing wrong with the name “Patsy”—I just didn’t happen to like it. It took a while to recapture my preferred nickname—Pat.

I never disliked my own name, but I know plenty of people who’ve rebelled at the moniker they were given at birth. Some even choose to change it when they reach adulthood. Which brings me to naming fictional characters.

Writers have a wonderful advantage when assigning names to the people who spring from their keyboard. They can clue us in about the character though the name they choose. A stout older woman, secretary to the boss, wearing sensible shoes and dowdy clothing, might be named something like Frieda Gump, thereby creating a picture in the reader’s mind. Naming that woman Mary wouldn’t tell us nearly as much. To me, that’s a fun part of writing a story, but it has its pitfalls.

Beware having multiple characters with names beginning with the same letter. A story with Cindy, Candy, and Cathy might drive a reader to dump your story before it’s finished—especially if all three girls are friends and appear together frequently in the story. I keep a list of character names, and if I slip up and include more than two with the same first letter, I fix it. You can avoid confusion and change names when things get messy. At the same time take care not to repeat the same beginning letter for first and last names of one character. Often that can be a problem, creating more confusion.

It’s also a good idea to read the story aloud and see how the names roll off the tongue. I recently decided to change the first name of a major character because when I got around to reading the book to my writers critique group, the first and last names sounded awkward together. I found myself stumbling and tripping over that particular combination of syllables. I would never have realized my error had I simply read the material silently to myself.

While I worked on my last book, I discovered a great resource for choosing character names. Google “Random Name Generator” on the internet. It’s free and you can select first names for either male or female, along with last names. I’ve enjoyed exploring the possibilities by mixing the first and last names offered. I eventually find just the right combination to fit a character.

Often writers choose to use a friend or relative’s name in fiction. If you do, make sure, 1) the character receiving that name will not reflect badly on the friend or relative, or 2) ask that person if they mind having their name used in your story. I’ve found most people are pleased at the prospect, but you never know when that might not be the case, so check first. It will save you grief down the line.

Feel free to name one of your characters Patricia. I know I won’t mind. In fact, I’d be downright pleased if you did!

Patricia is giving away one copy of The Easter Egg Murder to a U.S. or Canada resident who leaves a comment on this post before Tuesday midnight Mountain Time February 24th. The winner will be announced here on Wednesday the 25th.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Patricia Smith Wood’s father was a career FBI agent, sparking her interest in law, solving crime, and mystery.

After retiring from a varied and successful business career (including eighteen months working at the FBI, being a security officer at a savings & loan, and owning her own computer business) she attended writing seminars, conferences, and in 2009 graduated from the FBI Citizens’ Academy. Aakenbaaken & Kent published her first mystery, The Easter Egg Murder, in 2013. Set in New Mexico and based on a real unsolved murder, it was a finalist in the 2013 New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards for Best Mystery and Best First Book. Murder on Sagebrush Lane, the second in the series, will also be published by Aakenbaaken & Kent in early spring, 2015.

Learn more about Patricia and her mysteries at her website and blog. She can also be found on Facebook and Goodreads.

29 comments:

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Nice post, Patricia and Patricia! I agree...it's fun to be able to show something about characters through their names.

Patricia Smith Wood said...

Thanks, Elizabeth. It can be both challenging and fun, but well worth it when you find a really good character name!

Patricia Stoltey said...

Thanks for being my guest today, Patricia! Finding the right names for our characters can be fun...or frustrating. I've changed one three times for a character in my current wip, and I still don't think it's quite right. :D

nashvillecats2 said...

To the two Patricia's thanks for a most interesting post. I thoroughly enjoyed the read.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I like my name although my full name is a mouthful.
And I think that's another reason I enjoy science fiction. I get to make up names.

Patricia Smith Wood said...

Pat: I'm enjoying my day as your guest. Thanks, again, for the opportunity.

Adam Gaylord said...

My name is Adam Gaylord and I found your reference to my last name pretty offensive. But maybe I'm just used to bearing that cross.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Adam, the Patricias meant no offense, believe me. We tremble at the thought of upsetting our readers.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Rob Kresge sent me an email to let me know he tried to leave a comment and Blogger wouldn't let him do it. I'm posting his comment here:

"But the system wouldn’t accept me. Probably thought I was a robot.

However, what I did say was to pledge to use the name Patricia in my 2016 Wyoming mystery, which will be set entirely in Buffalo, NY in 1875, where I imagine the name Patricia will have been more common than in small frontier towns and ranches.

Nice job on names. Wish I could go back in time make wiser choices." Rob Kresge

Donnell Ann Bell said...

I wish we would get back to the end of the alphabet with names once again. Patricia is such a pretty name. It seems to have cycled to the As Allison, Ashley, Audra (my daughter's name).

I also get the imagery of naming someone a name that creates an image, e.g. your Freida Gump character. Great post.

Patricia Smith Wood said...

Thanks Donnell!

Patricia Smith Wood said...

I truly meant no offense to anyone, Adam. My relief had more to do with avoiding the connection with a river boat gambler, compounded by the last name Smith with such an unusual first and middle name. In those days it might have proven difficult for a young boy. As a last name I think it's quite distinguished.

Patricia Smith Wood said...

Thanks, Rob. I look forward to that.

Malka E said...

i find it fascinating, the naming of characters! will have to look into that google name thingy. your book looks interesting.

Ann Best said...

It's greatl meeting another Patrricia. I would love to read
this book. This is excellent information re names. So I'm curious to see what they are.

Natasha Wing said...

In children's books it seems like there are more characters with the same letter for first and last names. Good tip about not having two characters with the same first letter though!

Patricia Smith Wood said...

Thanks to Malka and Ann. Glad you found my topic useful. And to Ann: My middle is Ann, so there we are!

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

This was a very interesting post. My best friend has a twin sister named Patricia. There seemed to be lots of kids named Susan around my age but you don't see many children named that anymore.

Patricia Smith Wood said...

Thanks, Natasha Wing. I appreciate your comment. And Susan Gourley/Kelly, I believe naming children is rather cyclical. Some of the really older names seem to be coming around again. I suppose it will take some time for Patricia and Susan to hit the top of the charts again!

LD Masterson said...

My name - Linda - was the one given to every other baby girl born in my birth year. There was three or four of us in every class all the way through school.

I'm got a small naming dilemma going on right now. I have a character who jumped into my head with the name Andy Cooper. She absolutely refuses to accept any alternatives. But I have a grandson name Cooper. If his name shows up in a story, I'll have to write equally important characters named for each of my other grandkids. And probably have to keep track of who gets more page time. Argh!

Paula High-Young said...

Terrific post! I think most people never think about how the characters are named. I like your insights to how you make it happen.
Thank you, both Patricias!

Joan Spicci Saberhagen said...

Thanks, Pat for your insights into naming.
Still, a rose by any other ....
Well, you all know how that ends.

Margaret Tessler said...

Thanks, both Patricias, for an interview that was not only helpful, but also fun!

Patricia Smith Wood said...

I appreciate all these wonderful comments. You guys are the best!

Patricia Smith Wood said...

I received an email from Joan Taitte, who also tried to comment but couldn't get Blogger to let her! Here's what she said: “I wonder how many of us do not know the story of how our parents named us? Thanks for the sweet story and the character naming tips for all us wannabee writers.”

And I (Pat) say, "Thanks, Joan!"

Patricia Stoltey said...

My mom is 95, and I don't think she's ever said why I was given the name "Patricia." I'm going to call her tomorrow and ask (and why I haven't asked sooner, I'll never know).

Patricia Smith Wood said...

Pat: I'll be eager to hear what your mom tells you about how you received your name!

Earl Staggs said...

Very interesting, Pat. For me, character names absolutely have to fit. In my last book, the hero's first name is Tall. Why? John Wayne once played a hero with that name, and I'm a lifelong fan of The Duke. Perfect! In another book, I discovered I had two men named Leo. Yikes! Looking forward to your new book and breakfast at the Paris.

Patricia Smith Wood said...

Thanks for the comment, Earl. I love the name "Tall".
I hope we will be visiting sometime soon. I'll let you know!