Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, June 26, 2021

The Nitty Gritty of Names

 Next Mosaic Moments - July 12, 2021

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Ganesh enjoying the mail



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Over the last few weeks, I've been struggling with names for my latest Gothic, The Secrets of Stonebridge Castle. Which reminded me that Names are near the top of the essential "Nuts & Bolts" it takes to create an intriguing novel. So, posted below is a copy of my blog from April 30, 2017, on the importance of naming your characters. (Copy is excerpted from Making Magic With Words, my 200,000-words of Writing & Editing advice.)



Since I first blogged about the importance of names, I've been working my way through all five books of The Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) by George R. R. Martin. Believe me, here is the ultimate user of names as a writing technique. The names of Martin's literally thousands of characters sing. They evoke the person behind the name. They scream, they shout, they cry, they suffer. They love, they die. You have only to look at the list of characters at the back of his books to know Martin is a master of the Art of Names. As an example, here is the opening line of the chapter, "The Wayward Bride" from Book 5, A Dance With Dragons:

Asha Greyjoy was seated in Galbart Glover's longhall drinking Galbart Glover's wine when Galbart Glover's maester brought the letter to her.

I ask you, would this line have had the same ring if Martin wrote:

Asha Greyjoy was seated in Glover's longhall drinking his wine when Glover's maester brought the letter to her.

The answer is, Of course not. Full names have a ring to them nothing else can match.

 Another example of the dramatic use of place names, also from Martin's A Dance With Dragons:

When describing a battle at sea, Martin could have written in a single paragraph that a fleet of ninety-nine ships plus a large number of captured ships had been reduced to a mere fifty-four; instead, he spends nine Kindle pages giving details of what happened, including dreaming up some truly remarkable names for ships that are never mentioned again. For example: Noble Lady, Ravenfeeder, Iron Kiss, Headless Jeyne, Fear , Ralf the Limper, Lord Quellon, White Widow, Lamentation, Woe, Leviathan, Iron Lady, Reaper's Wind, and Warhammer.

 Do you and I have Martin's incredible imagination for creating names? Well, I know I certainly don't, so below are the ways I've coped with this problem over the years.

 As my regular readers know, I've spent a lot of time talking about the importance of names—full names and titles, not just first names. But perhaps more advice is needed on how to get past Dick, Jane, David, and Mary. Past wasting time puzzling over last names that have some "zing" to them. Or maybe you need a wimpy name . . . Which is why I always put naming my characters way up at the top of my book preparation list, right after the Title . . . hmm, maybe even before the Title. Where on earth do all these names come from?

Way back when I first began to write, computers had small memories. Hardcopy research was necessary, so that's the way I still do it. In a 4" 3-ring notebook. In those little pocket folders featured every fall in the school supply section. In baby books and place name books, and in scribbles on legal pads. Any way I can to keep those precious names from slipping away.


So how did I compile all these lists over the course of the last 25 years? Let's see if I can reconstruct it for you . . .

 1.  Fortunately, I kept the books of names I bought to search out names for my children. One book included the meanings of each name, the country of origin, and the many variations of the name. Another book listed the names by Traditional, Strong, Ultra-Feminine, Cross-Gender, Biblical, Exotic/Ethnic, Unusual, Very Unusual, etc. Thus, in two small paperbacks, a treasure trove of first names.

 2.  For last names, there's nothing like a genuine phone book. While still living on Florida's Gulf Coast, I used both the Venice and Sarasota phone books. After moving to Orlando, I made an even more sweeping commitment of time to find the English names I needed for my books set in Regency, England. I sat down with the huge Orlando phone book (c. 2008) and copied all the English-looking names by hand onto a legal pad. I used up almost the entire pad, but it has been a boundless source of names ever since. It was that search that turned up the name "Mondragon," which I promptly took for the sorcerer in my SciFi/Adventure, the Blue Moon Rising series.  Nowadays , of course, all you have to do is google any city's phone book, and there it is. Wow! Even specific ethnic names are available with a few strokes of the keyboard.

 3.  In a 4" 3-ring notebook, I have typed lists of many aspects of the Regency, including the following sections on names (mostly compiled from the Regency books of Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, and Clare Darcy:

First Names, Female

First Names, Male

Last Names


Servants, Female

Servants, Male

Servants, Last Names

Last Names, General*

 *Last Names, General, has mostly been replaced by the "Orlando" list mentioned above.


4.  I also have pocket folders with names I researched online for different countries, as needed for whatever book I was writing. As of this moment, I have folders labeled:  Russian Names; Greek Names; Medieval Names; Welsh Names; Arab Names; Spanish Names; plus print-outs of Greek Gods and Egyptian Gods.

5.  I have a separate 4" 3-ring binder with the endless details of the world I made up for my Blue Moon Rising series, including pages of astronomical references for place names and the names of space ships. I also created several pages of male and female first and last names for several different races, most based on tweaked versions of standard Earth names, as almost all my characters are descended from Old Earth. (Some really strange ones came directly out of the Orlando phone book!)

6.  Cities, Towns, & Titles. When I was in England, I bought a book called, Dictionary of English Place-Names, a compendium of every last village, town, and city in the country. It has been an immense help in my work. I strongly advise searching the Net for similar books for whatever country is of interest to you.


This mountain of reference materials sits on the first two shelves of a bookcase in my bedroom, the phone books nearer to my bed where I can guard them from people who say, "You don't need those any more. Why don't you throw them out?"! The SciFi notebook rates a place on a desk in my office—close at hand, always ready for me to make sure that I'm spelling a newly created word the same way in Book 3 as I did in Book 1!



Names are vital—part of the characterization of hero, heroine, secondary characters, and bit parts. Compiling a compendium of names will save considerable time when you actually sit down to write.

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For a link to all 200,000 words (indexed & linked)
of my blogs on Writing & Editing
from 2011 -2020, click here.

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For Blair's updated Facebook Author Page, click here. 

  For Blair's website, click here.


Thanks for stopping by,

Grace/Blair Bancroft

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