Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Confessions of a Name Freak

My name is Hillary Lodge. I'm a name-o-holic.

The indicators showed up early. As a child, I renamed myself frequently. My first grade teacher quickly learned that if the name on the top of the page did not belong to a child on her roster (and in fact was odd to the point where a set of hippie parents would shake their heads at it), it must be mine (blessings upon Mrs. Bauer).

I loved Anne of Green Gables. Her desire to be called Cordelia made complete sense to me.

I spent a lot of time naming my dolls and stuffed animals the right name. Because heaven help us if they had the wrong name.

One thing led to another. My condition worsened. I began to write fiction.

I collect names. I've sat in movie theaters watching the credits, looking for good names. I'm very interested in the etymology of names. I'm always looking out for good baby name books. I'll write down random names that I like. I'll make fun of ones I hate.

I didn't think much about this until recently, when the subject came up in a blog interview. The section I had the most to write about was how I chose characters' names.

Now I've got my protagonist, Sara, starting in a new atmosphere, and I need to meet the people she'll encounter.

First, writing a follow-up novel means you've got a cast of thousands. There's more than half of the characters from the first book, plus all of the new ones. I actually had to pull out a copy of the book to remember what Jayne's mom's name is.

To avoid name conflicts (because I worry about such things), I made a categorized list of everyone in the book so far.

And wow. I have an addiction to names from the middle of the alphabet. Grady, Gemma, Jayne, Joely, Kim, Kip, Levi, Nora - this is Simply Sara alone, and does not count Grace, Jenna, Joel, Livy, Lewis, Mark, or Nick from my first novel.

Sure, I've got Sara and William and Zach and Arin, and Beth and Spencer and Sol, but good heavens. And talk about a soft-G/J addiction; I want to write a book about someone named Ginger (no idea what, just love the name), and now I realize it would just feed the pattern.

I'm teaching a class at OCW next month about creating an ensemble cast, and let me tell you that this experience of trying to add three characters has completely changed the way the seminar will be presented.

After a couple days, I finally managed to name the three young women I'd been working on. I'd think I was settled, then made changes at least once per character. I love the women I ended up with! Sometimes I wish some of the characters I wrote were real, I'd love to hang out with them.
Since then, writing's been a bit easier. There's knitting in this book (finally! I get to write about knitting!), which is happy. And like I said - I have people to play with!


  1. It's comforting to know there are others with a "name addiction" and collect names like hoarders collect stuff.

  2. Nice. I myself seem to like the begining of the alphabet for last names (in two children's books several main characters' last names begin with B, C and D). First names are all over the place alphabetically but I tend to favor old-fashioned and slightly unusual but still down-to-earth monikers.

    You're teaching a seminar!!? Excellent.


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