What’s in a Name?
Lots! Character names create images. Not many villains will be named Sissy. Few presidential candidates will use their nicknames, especially if they are Rusty, Dude, Babe or such. The head of the company best not be named Little Man or baby Jane. So how do writers select character names?
I use the names that come to me as I develop the character. Often, I choose name that I do not associate with friends, not wanting them to feel badly if their namesake gets into a pickle or does something they’d never do. When I use a common name, it usually happens by accident or because the character tells me that’s their name. Weird, huh?
I also use a baby naming book to help me find appropriate character names. It’s fun to turn to a country name and see the choices the book suggests. In my third ballet book, Letters to Follow, I’ve included a gypsy, a young Portuguese woman and several French personalities. The baby name book is a great resource, especially since my story is set in 1959, before families started naming their babies strange-t0-me combinations of letters such as Shinura or Talmon. (Sorry, if I’ve insulted anyone; that is not my intention.)
Story names that trip up the tongue, or the reader’s eye, slows the story and may take the reader away from the action while they untangle the letters. Too common of names can do the opposite; we may not get “a vibe” about the character unless the author builds a great set of characteristics to keep Bill, Sam, Robert, Jim and Tom distinct. (again, guys, no insult intended).
Naming characters is a fun task as a writer. Sometimes I get it right the first time; often I need to fiddle around with them since I tend to get fixated on a certain beginning letter like “m”, “l” or “b”. Usually I make a list a-z and write down the first and last names of each character so help me spread their names out across the alphabet. That helps a lot.
What are your favorite character names from the books you’ve read? Do you like them for their characteristics, the images their names create, their names or a combination of reasons?
I’m currently reading “The Girl on the Train.” It’s a psychological mystery that skips around in time and viewpoint. I’m glad the main characters, Rachel, Megan/Jess, and Anna, have names that sound different enough for me to keep them straight.