Thursday, 2 February 2012

What’s in a Name…?

I often start a new book with a fully formed character in my mind - who comes with a name – a name that suits him or her so well that they couldn’t possibly be called anything else. Finn McDuff of Reaching for the Stars arrived in such a way and so did Orley MacKenna of Bagpipes & Bullshot - even my own three children arrived into this world with their names already decided upon - but this time I’m not entirely sure I have exactly the right names for my hero and heroine..!

How important is a name?

Well, I think names are very important because they immediately conjure up images and character traits and so I believe it’s worth spending some time and research to get them right. Especially for your main characters. I mean, how many actors and musicians have changed their given names to something more in keeping with a strong image? Famously, there is Elton John, who might not have made it with the name Reginald Dwight. Then there is current pop siren Katy Perry – who is actually Kathryn Hudson in real life – but then there is already a famous actress called Kate Hudson, isn’t there?

Surnames are as equally important. They should be strong and not silly. They have to resonate rather than clash with the first name and, personally, I would avoid names so unusual in either pronunciation or spelling that they run the risk of taking the reader out of the story. Surnames can state nationality. They can even suggest if a character belongs to the upper, middle, or lower classes – before they open their mouths.

How do we find the right name?

Twitter: I threw out this question last week here on this blog and on Twitter in preparation for writing this post and received some great suggestions. @MrsPogleswood – Luke or Luker and Alex (female). @BookstoRemember – Andrew and Tayra. @SallyHepworth – Patrick and Eloise.

Here on the blog: Louise Graham suggest Cheryl and Richard. Old Kitty favours Angelina and Aiden. Cassam likes Abi for a heroine and Ross or Garth for a hero. Valentina (whose name I love!) offered Olivia and Matt.

So do keep the name suggestions coming in - either in the comment box below or on Twitter (I'm @JaniceHorton)

A great piece of advice came in from @Rodney_Willett on Twitter. Rodney is the lovely husband of acclaimed novelist Marcia Willett. He says: “it doesn’t matter – just call them anything to start with - then one day you will realise that Jane is really Sarah and Dominic wants to be Andrew.”

Research: I think television programs are a great source of name ideas and don’t forget the goldmine that is the credit list at the end of movies. The internet lists currently popular names and baby name books or listings are also worth checking. I like the idea of finding names with meanings: for example Gareth means ‘firm spear’ and Lachlan ‘warlike’ – so these guys would be tough and manly in any book!

Next Friday: having settled on a couple of names, I’ll be hosting a mini-writing-workshop looking at writing the opening paragraph. Do let me know if you are starting a new book right now too – or if you are thinking about it…?

In addition to my regular Friday posts (which often appear on Thursday evenings!) I have decided to host my Author Showcase posts additionally on occasions as there are so many writers out there whom I feel deserve to be showcased and supported.

So, pop back on Saturday 4th February to meet Richard Holmes, author of Angelic Wisdom Trilogy. Richard is a Medium, a Reiki healer, a psychic surgeon, a spiritually inspired artist and interpreter of dreams.

Janice xx


Anonymous said...

I do similar to you, Janice. I have a name in my head and very rarely change it once I've started writing. I chose Camilla long before I started working on Discovery at Rosehill, and knew I would name my MC Lydia before I started working on Hideaway. For my next book I haven't yet chosen any character names but I will, before I start writing it!

CJ x

Melanie said...

I've had my characters' names before I started writing, too.

I heard at a conference that you shouldn't have a lot of characters with names that start with the same letter/sound.

Old Kitty said...

I like the Rodney Willet's very sound advice! I do tend to linger far too much on getting the "right" names but it's really just best to start with a few random names first because the story may just do the job for you and give them proper names later! Thank you!

Liam and Marilyn!

:-) Take care

Linn B Halton and Lucy Coleman said...

You have hit the nail on the head! Names are so important. I can't imagine beginning with one name and then changing it, because to me the name conjures up the traits and personality of the character. Or perhaps I just end up with bossy characters who dominate my mind and take over. But it is fascinating to see the range of names being put forward. Can't wait to see which ones you choose!


I came across a great name yesterday. My friend gave birth to a son who she called Quinn! I loved it and thought it was a good strong name! For a female character I love the name Rebecca, from my favourite book. So hows about Quinn and Rebecca!

Diane Fordham said...

It is so true what you say how a name will conjure up a certain image of a person. In my last novel manuscript I found myself obsessing about names and just used what first came out.. I ended up changing a few as the story went on and did feel more comfortable with that. Thanks for the post :-)

Sue Fortin said...

When I'm trying to come up with a name, I work out when my hero/heroine was born then I google the top 50 names for that year and see if there are any I like. That way I feel the name is current for the time it's being written. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

So I will throw in some names from 1984 (although I have no idea of the age of your characters)

Top 3 girls names : Sarah, Laura, Gemma and Top 3 boys names : Christopher, James, David


Rosemary Gemmell said...

I'm trying to find the right name for one of my historical characters just now and he won't be right until the name is!

Anonymous said...

What's in a name, indeed? I usually consult the internet for baby's names, like Sue suggested looking at name 'hit lists.' Something is bound to resonate. You can, of course, also buy 'name books', some even give you ideas as to character traits of people bearing those names... Hm. I like Diana and George. X

Chris Longmuir said...

I do lots of what has already been suggested but I find if a character doesn't like the name I give them they soon change it to what they want. You just have to be careful that you spot the change. When I wrote Dead Wood, one of my main police characters was named Joanne (because I like the name). Halfway through the book she decided she wanted to be Louise, and I'd written quite a few chapters before I spotted the change. Dilemma, should she stay with the name I'd given her, Joanne, or should she be Louise. Well, if you've read the book you'll know.

Myra Duffy said...

..and there's the problem of avoiding names of people you know well who might be offended.But I agree that eventually the characters choose their own names. Do you have an idea for the setting/time era of the novel? That might help you decide.

Lo said...

Yes, some names just fit, and you can't explain why, even as they author. :) - Lo

Sheryl Browne said...

I can't start writing until I have the name right either. It's as if the character won't grow without being christened properly! I must admit I like Olivia and Matt. I do like short names for a man. They seem stronger somehow. :) x

Anonymous said...

Name suggestions Sophie,Amy, and Lauren.Aaron, Greg and Angus are the names that popped into my head. I'm sure what ever you choose Janice your next novel will be well worth reading. Read two of your previous books and they are AWESOME!

Anonymous said...

Hard, hard task choosing the right name as conjures a particular image in one's head. I could never write a Colin or Nigel as my hero. Many factors come into play: age, region, nationality, era setting of novel and actual meaning of the name. I often choose place names, and have been known to search gazetteer in an roadmap for two-word towns etc. Good luck whatever you finally decide.

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