Thursday, February 9, 2012

Namely Fun with Guest Blogger: Mary McCall

Win a copy of Highland Promise
(Sisters by Choice Book II)
and meet author Mary McCall
today at the Book Boost!

She's here to discuss the fun of naming characters and here's what she had to say...

One of the first things I seem to know about some of my characters is their names. For some, I honor family members. For example, my father’s name was Robert Duncan. Then in Highland Captive, I had a Baron Robert and Laird Duncan. The name Angelaspera was in an old Latin parchment; its meaning: Angel of Hope. I so loved the name that when I decided it was perfect for an abuse victim in another book. Sometimes I meet people with unusual names and write them down because the name as a word speaks to me as a writer.

Full Name/Nick Name:

In essence I am a proud parent and it is time to christen my child. I use the same care in picking a character’s name as anyone would use in naming a child. Quite often, the character’s name serves as his or her introduction to the reader. Some names suggest larger themes: Destiny, Pandora, Phoenix.

Some are selected for meaning: Alera = eagle, Justine = justice, Regina = queen. However, it is important not to select names for theme or meaning alone. Names should in some way reflect the time period and culture of a character’s ordinary world.

There are many sources for names: phone books, obituaries, name books, old manuscripts, computerized name generators, the people you meet, newspaper articles, etc. When meeting the demands of culture and time period, it is important to keep from using names so unusual that they become a distraction to the reader.

If a reader cannot read the name easily, the character is more difficult to bond with. If you are writing a medieval, be careful to fit the name to no more than a half line of typed text. (I’ve seen back covers where the hero’s name took up four lines and consequently the blurb didn’t have room to tell me anything. I didn’t buy those books).

The same can hold true for locations we write about, since character names in early times were often associated with locales. And sometimes character names can be translated without losing complete flavor of the time, yet be more reader friendly.

Example: Celtic: Ri Tuaithe Kaigt; King of Fire (descendant later became known by the name MacKay) King of Fire gives an air of Celtic times, yet doesn’t scare the person who reads at a fifth grade level.

The same is true of places. It is much easier for a reader to relate to Alera of Eagle’s Ridge than to Alera of Arundrydge, so I had to take extra care to explain both the heroin’s name and the locale to use the second in historical romance.

Names can also reflect occupation. Tanner, Thatcher, Smith, Chandler, etc. John the Tanner later became known as John Tanner.

Names can reflect parental devotion. I know a family who has eight children… six girls: Mary Ann, Mary Barbara, Mary Catherine, Mary Diana, Mary Ester, and Mary Frances. Can you guess their religious background. They also had a Matthew and Mark, but poor Luke and John were left out.

Meanings and connotations can be important as well. I am unlikely to name a hero Herb, or a villain Jesus.

One of my favorite names was the brainchild of Suzanne Newton in her book Reubella and the Old Focus Home. The scene where she introduces herself is delightful. She explains that she is named for her grandparents Reuben and Ella. When her parents put the names together to make hers, they didn’t know there was a virus with a similar name.

It can be fun to keep an address book handy to write down names you may like to use for future characters. As you add names, jot down why the name appealed to you at the time. Later, when you begin a new project, you may find the perfect name on hand.

A Note from the Book Boost: Great to have you here with us, Mary. We've been pals a long time and I'm so happy to hear of your recent successes! I use this same care in naming when it comes to book titles. Those feel like naming a child to me. In fact, there is only one of my titles that was subsequently changed by a publisher and it is my worst seller of all time. Go figure! Please tell us more about your latest.


A handsome meets the hag tale of love and revenge.

Ordered by King Alexander to wed an Englishwoman, Laird Brendan Sutherland heads to England to find and wed the sister of his best friend's wife to settle a debt. He intends to beget a few heirs and forget the lass. He has no use for love, and among his clanswomen, he is known as Stoneheart.

After being falsely accused of the Sin of Eve when she was twelve, Lady Faith of Hawkhurst hides her beauty beneath a hideous disguise becoming a hag in public. Due to a despicable penance given by a zealot priest, she believes she must enter a convent and live a life of penance or suffer perpetual damnation.

Learning her brother intends to ambush an approaching Highland party, Faith intercepts Brendan and his men and asks their aid in reaching the convent at Saint Bride. Brendan quickly sees through her disguise. Realizing she’s the woman he promised to wed, he agrees to take her with him when he goes home. After a court scandal, King Henry orders them to wed. Faith fears Brendan will never trust her when he learns of her deception. As they return to the Highlands with a killer on their trail, Brendan discovers he can't remain aloof from the woman destined to restore his faith in love.

Want More Mary?

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