What's in a Name? How This Author Names Places and Things

When I began meeting with my writers’ group about four years ago, I encountered a new term, world building. It seemed to be used mainly by those in the group who wrote in the science fiction or fantasy genres.

Sure enough, I found the definition online. Whatever did we do before Wikipedia, or the internet, for that matter? But that is a discussion for another blog, perhaps.

Worldbuilding is the process of constructing an imaginary world, sometimes associated with a whole fictional universe. The resulting world may be called a constructed world.

Well, that didn’t apply to me, I thought. Not really. I was writing stories in real places like Washington, DC, Boston, and then St. Louis and Chicago. But then my characters needed to go to places such as restaurants, country clubs, and hotels, and I needed to make up names for them. (You have to be real careful about using things from the “real” world, especially if you cast them in a negative light. If my character went to McDonald’s and got food poisoning (totally making this up), I could open myself to a lawsuit.)

So, I started to have fun making up names for these fictional places and things, and then one day it hit me, that even though my books take place in the real universe, I really am engaging in worldbuilding, and I have to tell you, it’s a blast.

In my St. Clair Family series, after a very short introduction, the first book opens on a fictional Caribbean island. So, you may be asking yourself, how did that island come to be called St. Jardin? I’m fairly sure the answer will surprise you.

There’s no easy way to say this. It came from bathroom freshening spray. Yes, read that again. For quite some time now, I have seen these white cans of “odor counteractant” (I’m quoting from the can) with green writing in some public restrooms. The scent is called Tuscan Garden, or Jardin de Tuscan. Jardin sounded like the French or Italian word for garden to me. Voila! Add “St.” in front of it, and there you have a great name for an exotic French Caribbean island. And because of its name, the island can be known for its beautiful gardens.

Fast forward to book two. I needed a name for an elegant, trendy club for a New Year’s Eve party in Chicago. I’ve never set foot in an elegant, trendy club in Chicago or anywhere else, but I’ve seen them on TV, so I started thinking of descriptive adjectives: dark, sparkling, noisy, loud, fast. Hmm…let’s draw on my musical background…fast in Italian is allegro. The Allegro? Not quite there. Ahh…make it feminine—The Allegra. Perfect. I can almost see its name in lights and its distinctive logo everywhere (silver script on midnight blue).

How did writers ever come up with names before the internet? Now I was writing book three, back on St. Jardin, and needed a cool and funky name for a little cantina. I can’t remember exactly what I typed into my favorite search engine, but up popped Tiki Bar Name Generator. I kid you not—type it in and it will take you there. I clicked away and before I knew it, I had come up with the perfect name! You’ll have to read book three (Bait and Switch, available 1/1/2019) to find out what it is.

I've told you how I name places and things, but what about people? That's fun, too! I'll talk about that in a future blog.