Names are where characters begin to take shape for me, and its always been that way. I bought my first baby name book when I was fourteen, the same year that I decided that maybe, just maybe I could be a writer. I remember the bookstore clerk that checked me out glancing down at my stomach, and then quickly up at my face. I realized that she thought I was pregnant and looking for names for a real baby. I didn’t try to explain that I needed the book to help me name fictional characters. I was painfully shy, and had finished one story in my entire life. How was I going to say out loud to an adult that I was spending money on a book to help me write stories that I hoped to sell to real magazines, and earn real money, and maybe eventually make a living at this. I couldn’t explain, so I said nothing and let her think what she liked. I still have that first baby name book, Name Your Baby by Lareina Rule, and I still reference it constantly when creating new characters. The cover has actually come apart, but I saved it, kept it with the book. The pages are starting to yellow, but I still love this book. From the very beginning of my career when I knew the name, I knew the character. Sometimes the name comes first and a character just magically forms around it. Sometimes I have a character in mind, but it’s not fully formed so I’ll search through all my baby name books and makes lists of names. That’s how I named, Micah, Nathaniel, Doyle, just to name three. Sometimes characters choose their names without me looking anything up, like Anita and Jean-Claude. Anita chose her name and I knew enough to know it was originally a Spanish name, so she chose half her ethnicity without me deciding anything consciously. Though since all the people I grew up with that were Hispanic came from families that were originally from Mexico that’s where Anita’s mother’s family had to be from, because it was more familiar to me. Jean-Claude on the other hand, I wanted to be Spanish, because no one had done a master vampire from Spain as a main character. At that time I spoke and read Spanish. I wasn’t fluent, but I could get by. (Please, do not speak Spanish to me now, I’m so rusty it’s embarrassing.) But he insisted he was French, which I didn’t speak, couldn’t read, and my accent is still horrible according to my French translator. I tried so hard to force him to be what I envisioned and the character just didn’t work at all. Finally, in desperation I let him be French and suddenly he chose his name, his personality, and stepped on stage almost fully formed and just, well, Jean-Claude. I’ve been informed since then that it is not an elegant name in France, and not sexy enough, but he came with the name, this one I did not choose. Of course, it’s not the name that he was born with in France, but one that he acquired after he became a vampire, but that’s a story for another day.
Two other name books stay in the reference drawer with Rule’s book. Beyond Jennifer and Jason, by Linda Rozenkrantz and Pamela Redmond Satran. I found the book by accident in the grocery store over ten years ago. It has lists for boyish names, ambisexual names, handsome names, pretty names, names for standing out, names for fitting in, macho names etc . . . I don’t agree with every name on every list, but I find them all useful in their way. Multicultural Baby Names by M. J. Abadie is rare find, because it’s literally what the title promises, names that aren’t just white Anglo-saxon, Northern European, or German, which is the predominance of most English baby name books. There are chapters on Arabic names, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, African, Hindu, Native American, and more. I try very hard not to have my fictional characters seem like they stepped out of a “Dick and Jane” kid’s book where everyone is middle to upper class and living in a white bread America that never existed for most of us outside of sitcoms from the 1950s and 60s.