Tuesday, September 01, 2009

What's In A Name - Helen Brenna

While I was growing up I hated my first name. Since the only Helen I’d ever heard of was the actress Helen Hayes, the name always said to me “old lady.” Sweet, frail, gray-haired mum, that was me.

Admit it, that’s the same image that pops up for you, too.

Eventually, I came to terms with the name (or did I age into it?) and now I actually like the name Helen. It’s different, simple, kinda pretty. I guess my folks did okay. Some parents not so much. The names some celebrities have given their kids have me alternating between cringing and laughing.

Calico (Admittedly pretty tame for the daughter of Alice Cooper.)
Apple Blythe Alison Martin (What do you expect from a mother named Gwyneth and a grandmother named Blythe?)
Fuschia (Sting – you’d think such wonderful poet/song writer could come up with something more lyrical.)
Hopper (Boy? Girl? Farm equipment? Sean Penn and Robin Wright)
Sage Moonblood and Seargeoh (Sylvester Stallone, who shouldn’t be allowed to name anymore children.)
Kyd (Honestly, this one makes me chuckle - David Duchovny and Tea Leoni – figures.)
Brooklyn (David and Victoria Beckham, parents also of Romeo and Cruz - somebody please stop these two.)
Moon Unit Zappa (Guess who?)

But then there’s Suri, (Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes). I love that name.
And Destry (Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw). I don’t know what the name means, but it conjures up all kinds of wonderful images for me.

What does Emily say to you? Elijah, Alexander, Grace? Wilbur? Yeah, that’s my grandpa’s name. I loved him, but the name always made me think of that talking horse sitcom … what was the name of that show?

Anyway, one of the first things I have to do when I start a new book (which I’ll be doing in just a few weeks) is to figure out my characters’ names. It really messes me up if I use the wrong name for one of my people. So I search and search through my baby name books and the phone book and websites before I settle on names.

Coming up with names for my new Superromance series set on a fictitious Mirabelle Island off Wisconsin’s Lake Superior shore was particularly tricky. It’s a beautifully quaint island, similar to Michigan’s Mackinac, with cobblestone streets, Victorian bed and breakfast inns, horse drawn carriages, but there are lots of secondary characters and, so far, four books in the series. I had to put together a separate file of names in order to keep everyone straight as I write!

FIRST COME TWINS, the first book in the series released in August, features Noah and Sophie, two born and bred islanders, childhood sweethearts who get a second chance at love.

NEXT COMES LOVE, number two, will be released in October. Garrett and Erica make their way to Mirabelle for very different reasons. Erica’s on the run looking for safety, and Garrett, an ex-Chicago cop, wants a peaceful life. Sparks fly when their paths cross.

THEN COMES BABY, the third book, features Jamis and Natalie. Jamis came to Mirabelle to hide from his past, but Natalie—you guessed it—won’t let him!

ALONG CAME A HUSBAND, is Missy’s and Jonas’s story. Missy comes into the series as a secondary character in book number two and in story, to be released in June 2010, her past finally catches up with her.

So tell me, do my names work for you? How important are character’s names to you? Can it end up meaning the difference between liking and not liking a story? What about over-used names? Do you have one that you’re sick of, one that if you see it again you’ll immediately stop reading?

I'm giving away a copy of FIRST COME TWINS to one commenter so do share! I'll pick a winner in a couple of days.


***Helen picked Cherie J. as the winner! Cherie please email Helen with your full mailing address so she can get the prize in the mail to you. :) And thanks to everyone else who left a comment!***


gigi said...

Hi Helen,
I didn't like the name my folks gave me as a kid,'Regina'. Thank goodness I wound up with a cute nickname of Gigi. Teacher's butchered 'Regina' on the first day of school and then the mean kids took off teasing me. Like you I have grown into my name but it took 40 something years.

I liked all the names you mentioned for characters in your upcoming books except for Jamis in the Then Comes Baby story. I have never hear of it except maybe in historical books.

Emmanuelle said...

Hi Helen,

I like all the name you mentioned. There are some that I like more than others though. Noah and Garrett sound particularly good to my ears. I don't know why but I fall easily for Nicks and Jacks ;-)
On the other hand, I've never been rebuked by a character because of its name.
I haven't read First Comes Twins yet but I intend to : small town, childhod sweethearts, second chance at love... EXACTLY the kind of stories I love to read !!

Laney4 said...

Hi, Helen!
MY given name is Elaine. I always ranked it up there with Ethel, Gertrude, and (wait for it) Helen. I guess I too have grown into the name after 50 years....
My FIRST name is Monica. Since I detested Elaine in Grade 8, I decided to "change my name" to Monica on one of my tests. When it was handed back, classmates started chanting, "Mona, Mona." Needless to say, I became Elaine again.
I was perhaps 35 when two friends started calling me Laney. And they are still the only ones who do so. (Who knew there could be a "nickname", also with two syllables, for Elaine? Not me!)
Yes, your names work for me.
The only thing I care about is that an author hopefully doesn't have a bunch of characters whose names start with the same letter. I get confused easily, and I end up going back and forth (and sometimes writing it down) to determine who is who.
Yes, if I am turned around like this, I will not enjoy the story as much.
No, I don't have a name in mind that I'm sick of reading or will immediately stop reading -- at least none that I can think of at this particular moment.
Thanks for offering a great blog and giveaway!

Cherie J said...

I am not usually particular about character names. I can't think of any books that I have not decided to read because of the character's name. The name would have to be appalling for me to not want to read it. For example, calling the hero Edgar or Eugene would not do it for me.

Helen Brenna said...

Gigi, I love your nickname and happen to love Regina too!

I met a Jamis up in Canada years ago and really wanted to use the name should the right character present himself. He did in THEN COMES A BABY. This hero is, quite likely, the most unique I've ever written. A Stephen Kingish horror writer whose holed himself up on Mirabelle. I've very curious to find out what readers think of him. But it'll have to wait!

Helen Brenna said...

Hi there, Emmanuelle - fun to "see" you here!

I did a Nick and a Jake. No Jacks yet. lol

Helen Brenna said...

Hi Laney4 - fun to "see" you here, too!

Yes, Elaine, you're in the same boat with me! That's funny that you took in upon yourself to change your own name way back in 8th grade. I never had the balls enough for that! Good for you.

Laney's an awesome nickname for Elaine.

I have a problem in picking hero names that end in s. Makes the possessives difficult. In ten books I've done a Lucas, Jamis, and a Jonas. Have no clue why I go there. Anyone?

Helen Brenna said...

Cherie J - LOL! Edgar and Eugene wouldn't do it for me either. I put them in my file for villain names! hehehe

Emmanuelle said...

That reminds me of a famous When Harry Met Sally quote and a certain guy named "Sheldon"... ;-)

Alison said...

I find it very much matters if I liked/disliked a real person with that name. I've known several nice Davids, so that's a good name to me, but I hate the name Paul (although believe it or not that's my husband's name!)

Maureen said...

The only time names bother me is when there are similar names being used for two characters and then I have to keep flipping back in the book to see who is who.

Estella said...

I am not particular about character names. I don't think any name would make me put a book down if it was a well written story.

Helen Brenna said...

Emmanuelle, LOL - yeah, Sheldon would be a tough hero's name. Although I know a very nice man named Sheldon!

Helen Brenna said...

Alison, I find that's true for me. There are several names I just can't get myself to use because of people I've known. Too funny that your husband's name is Paul!

Helen Brenna said...

I agree Maureen. Sometimes authors don't use the names often enough in the beginning of the book, and I'll have to go back and keep refreshing my memory. I get how that can happen, but it's a bummer.

Helen Brenna said...

That's cool, Estella. I remember a few times I haven't liked a name and find myself just skipping it as I read. It works for me.

robynl said...

I'm okay with most names in books. If the name is the same as a person I have issues with or have had issues I don't like the name so much but that is just my problem.

Also I have never heard of Jamis. Is the a long or short?

Helen Brenna said...

Hey Robynl!

Long a in Jamis - sounds like famous. I think it's Scottish.

Pat Cochran said...

No real problems with names except
laughing at a couple of characters'
names. I like a male character in a Christina Skye series whose nickname is Izzy. I laughed when I ran across a female character in a historical romance also nicknamed Izzy. That was a first for me! (That I can remember, I've been
an avid reader since I learned to read around age 5 in the early 1940s.)

Pat Cochran

kimmyl said...

Hi Helen, Actually names mean nothing to me. I usually go by the author or the blurb. YOur names do sound great for your stories.

Mary said...

I love those nicknames. I liked the names you mentioned, I like seeing new names in stories. I can't think of any names that I think are over done or that I'm sick of.

Helen Brenna said...

Hey Pat. For some reason Izzy seems more like a woman's nickname than a man's, but I can see how it might add to the characterization.

Helen Brenna said...

Hi Kimmy! And thanks for stopping by!

Helen Brenna said...

Hi Mary! And thanks to you, too, for stopping by!

Michele L. said...

Hi Helen,

I liked your names except for Sophie. I had an Aunt Sophie who was really mean so I don't like that name. My brother named one of his dogs Sophie and that cinched it with me. Don't like the name.

I like my middle name really well which is, Lenore. My first name is just ok to me, Michele, but my husband loves my name! I was called Shelly as a kid. I don't like Shelly at all.

Sometimes I have read books where the character names didn't fit the hero/heroine at all in a story. That will usually ruin a story for me. I like when the names match the personality of the characters.

I don't remember which book I read but the hero was this really tough, macho guy, and his name was Pete. Pete conjurs up images of an easy going guy with a sense of humor. It is funny how certain names conjur up different images!

Helen Brenna said...

Michele, you're so right that names not fitting the character impacting the story. That's one of those sits where I simply quit reading the name. Pete would become P for me! lol