Naming a character is fun (?)

Naming a character is really important to me. Having just sent a book in, and being in that happy place before the rewrites come back to me, I’ve been giving some thought to the next book, which has been percolating for the last few weeks but having to be ignored whilst I finished the WIP.

I already have my heroine, because she’s the sister of Cleo, from All That Mullarkey, a character I like too much to leave her perpetually in a support role. She’s surprising me with some of her thoughts and history, but she’s recognisably Liza Reece. I’m enjoying getting to know her better.

I had conceived my hero as Marcus. But then it was pointed out that Marcus is quite like Martyn, hero of my WIP, Love & Freedom. I would hate a) a browser to put the book back because s/he thought s/he recognised the hero’s name so must have read it  b) me to get the two heroes mixed up in my mind. At my son’s suggestion, Marcus has become Lucas, because it’s a similar shape on the page. But, having been rechristened, he has changed his image in my mind. Slightly irritating … And it means both hero and heroine have names beginning with the same letter. Argh! But he seems to want to be Lucas now, so I don’t think I’m going to change him again.

But he will not tell me his surname. I keep trying to guess but it hasn’t come to me, yet.

Surnames have tripped me up in the past, in most unexpected ways. For example, in Want to Know a Secret? I knew that my heroine was Diane Jenner and her husband was Gareth. I also knew that their daughter was Brenna, which I thought was the sort of pretty-and-unusual name that Diane would have chosen. I was half way through the book before I realised that I’d lumbered the poor kid with Brenna Jenner! So she had to become Bryony.

Something I pay attention to, and it always grates when others don’t, is giving siblings names that sound as if they have come from the same parent. If the elder is a plain and sturdy David would his parents have named his little brother Elvis? Or Dimitri? Or Ptolemy? Not in my imagination! James North, from Want to Know a Secret?, called his daughters Tamzin, Alice and Natalia. Not only did I feel the same two people (James and wife Valerie) would choose three names like that – but they were just right for a family with money. Of course, the girls insisted on calling one another Tamz, Ali and Nat, which spoiled the effect. But that’s kids for you.

Along with a lot of writers I know, I find naming characters just as important/frustrating as naming a baby. Last minute changes happen. Nicknames develop. Mistakes are made (aren’t they, Brenna Jenner?) But it’s always a lot of fun.

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8 responses to “Naming a character is fun (?)

  1. Brenna Jenner! That did make me laugh. Great post, it did make me think. I’ve written complete stories and then changed the names of the characters afterwards. You know when they ‘feel’ wrong don’t you.

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  3. Roberta Grieve

    I love naming my characters and find it hard to change them once they are fixed in my head. Talking of siblings’ names, I agree but my family had to be different. I have a fairly unusual name but my sisters are Jean and Pat and my half-sisters from my dad’s previous marriage are June and Joan. I also had an Aunt Jean. My mum was Pat and my brother Patrick and I also have a cousin Pat. You couldn’t do that it a fiction book could you.

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    • No, I agree – unless it was part of the plot! You’d have to find really good ways of referring to each ‘Pat’, if you wanted several of them. On the other hand, it could be a useful plot device to name sisters Jean and Joan but the baby of the sister Genevive or Arabella. Jean and Joan could always be miffed by Arabella’s pretty name. Then you just have to come up with a reason for the parents to have undergone such a change in mind-set: to allow Arabella to inherit from rich Aunt Arabella? Or they’d been stung by so many people stigmatising Joan and Jean as ‘plain’ names?

      I met someone, recently, who says she was named after her elder sister’s favourite horse – Marney. I said she was lucky not to be Neddy. 🙂

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  4. Oh I agree, naming characters are equally as important as naming babies. In fact, I think naming my two sons was easier.

    You’re right about the David/Elvis thing too. However, in real life, people do do this to their kids (why?) and name them the likes of Brenna Jenner…

    My husband knows of an engineer – his first name begins in W and his surname is Anker. Signing off drawings in the old days would be W. Anker. Why would you do that?

    What I tend to do now, is use my Baby Names book. For example, Adam’s mum (Adam is my hero in The Wedding Favour), I had a rough idea how old she was, so at the front of the book are the top 50 names in the UK (and a chart for the US, too) and it’s separated in years (approx every 20) Looked the closest (1950s) and picked a name from the list. 😀

    Absolutely useless at choosing surnames – sometimes go to the random name generator for that one.

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  5. I don’t like name clashes in my reading but I wouldn’t have a problem with Liza and Lucas because one’s soft in sound and the other hard. I’d have a problem with Lucas Matthews for instance (which you wouldn’t choose, I know!), so I always try out every combination of how the reader would have to say it, or sign it (ha ha), to get it okay – and I agree it’s hard work. It was more fun in our Lothian Dragons books because we split Norse names and made the dragon names up by taking half of one and joining it to half of another, never mind which half went first or last. Result? Brilliant names!

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    • I really think they look different on the page, too. But will have to check out with Choc Lit before I begin to write properly. At the moment, I’m at the ‘compost heap’ stage and am compiling notes and thoughts.

      Maybe I ought to call Lucas Lucas Dragon? I did think of Lucas Wulffe but my ed wasn’t keen.

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