Yes, I know that’s a mis-quote, but it’s a very common one, and it gets the point across. Today I want to talk about naming your characters.
Some people go to a lot of trouble finding the perfect names for their characters. They read baby name books, check out meanings, possible different spellings, whether the number of letters in the name is auspicious, the works. Okay, I may be exaggerating here, but you know what I mean. “I chose the name Jemima because my character is quiet and a pacifist, and it means dove.”
Others go by themes. For example, JK Rowling tended to favour old-fashioned, floral or Latin names in the Harry Potter series; Suzanne Collins chose rare botanical names and unusual spellings in The Hunger Games; and Jane Austen‘s scallywags invariably had a surname starting with W. I’ve known people who take first names from their favourite bands and surnames from their favourite sporting team. It doesn’t really matter what the theme is – just having one can make some people feel more comfortable.
Still others pick names at random, without thought of meaning or motif. “Jenny? That’ll do.” Or, “I might call him Fred. I don’t think I’ve used that name before.”
Me, I’m a little from column A, a little from column C. For my WIP I did take a while to get some of the names right, but that was often because I didn’t want people in real life thinking the characters were based on them, so if the names were similar at all (including in theme) then they got changed. I had a character called Jane, for example, who my friend Anne may have thought was a reference to her. Personality-wise they have very little in common, but since they are such similar types of names I changed Jane’s name to something that didn’t resemble “Anne” in the slightest. Similarly, I realised halfway through NaNo that my hero had a similar name to my husband. He is not based on my husband at all, and I don’t think my husband himself would have seen a connection, but other people I know would have. Again, the character name was amended.
My heroine was slightly different. In early drafts I called her Emma, perhaps because I saw a similarity with Jane Austen’s character of that name. The similarity has now disappeared, and the name didn’t feel right at all. I played with different options but finally decided on amending Emma as slightly as I could, simply by adding a G to the front. “Emma” just didn’t fit properly; “Gemma” fits perfectly. Funny how that works, isn’t it?
I guess what I’m trying to say here is that everyone is different, and there’s no right or wrong way to name your characters. Essentially, whatever feels right for you as a writer is the way to go. I’m curious about you, though. How do you name your characters? What method works best for you? And what difficulties have you come across in the process? I’d love to hear. :)