What’s in a character name?

Leotie, Aaron, Bonny, Lauren, Daniel, Kathy, Dee, Christine, David, Dave, Jan, Marty, Mark, Dan, Bonnie, Raymond, Don, Jake, Kris and Ria. Pat, Clara or Alsoomse and Hurit, Sam, Chepi, Kanti, Regan, Mary, Jim, Biddy, Emma, Peter, Julie. Yes this is a list but all these are names of friends, close personal friends and they’d be offended if I left any out. I’m sure they would since they are all my creations: all are characters from my novels. Three are names taken from actual flesh and blood people in my life. 

What's in a name?
What’s in a name?

Choosing names is a mysterious process. Sometimes the name comes first and at other times the character gets born nameless, inhabiting the plot as a character seeking a name. At other times they change names;

Bonny started out as Dolly. This was an example of me using a real person from my past as the prototype. As she took shape she moved far from the prototype and demanded a new name. Bonny-Ann was born and Bonny was chosen instead of Bonnie to say more about who she was.

Lauren started out as Vanessa and again was based on a real person and but she, too, demanded a new name as she filled out and moved away from the germ of her creation.

There are two names above that are taken from people in my life and they are used as a deliberate dedication. Ria is my daughter in life. Biddy is Brigitte my soul-mate, lover and wife.

David is me and my father and my grandfather’s before that.

The rest got found in a process that is part inspiration and part deliberation.

I always choose simple names, easy to spell and type. I will even give the same name to several characters, Dave Hall and Daniel’s son David are an example. James and Jim and so on. Life is like that, people do share names in families and friendships, the same names get used as tribute.

I avoid names that are too dated or too currently cute: Clint, Gig, Brittany, Kyle, Sebastian, Darcy or any name that’s too difficult or too local. Not easily said by other nations, like Siobhan or Niamh.

Most readers will balk at a name they can’t easily say – not said – not remembered.

Names are important but less than many writers would like to think. Readers will see characters and be touched by them if they are well drawn and with warmth and quirks that separate them from stock heroes or villains. It is that which gives power to the name, not the other way round. Just giving the hero a butch name does not make him masculine or sexy. How he behaves and how he speaks does that. A really hot woman-melting hero might be called say, ‘Jerome’ or ‘Jeremy.’ If he’s drawn well, he’ll still get the female readers excited.

Stereotypes are the worst offense in much of the writing I see on-line (however briefly scanned). In particular they appear in books with the ripped waxed-chested guy showing off his pecks and with some melting honey draped over his arm. You know the kind of thing I mean. Usually found in the romance or erotic genre.  Those kind of books tend to be stuffed with stereotypes and cliché and are churned out by creative writing class graduates who may be good writers, i.e. they have perfect grammar and follow all the rules but have one thing missing – real talent.

If a name is often found in these kind of books, avoid it. Unless you are writing that kind of book, in which case, what a nice surprise to find you here?

A good source of names is a search of a nation specific list. (I don’t use or say ‘Google.’)

Surnames can be found this way too. If you know your hero their name will often jump out at you as you scan such lists but just make sure you go beyond the A’s and B’s. I twice named whole families by sticking to a simple and often used method from real life: In Prairie Companions, we have: Samuel, Sarah, Stephen, Stanley, Simon. All given as Christian names by the local priest to a First nation Cree family. Then in Leotie we have: Adam, Aaron, Abraham, and Abigail, all given by an upright bible reading father.

Happy name hunting, it can be fun.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s