When I sit down to write a new story, one of the most important decisions I make is to name my characters. A character’s name says a lot about them. It paints a mental picture in the reader’s mind. It must fit the character and embody that certain ‘something’ you want to get across. Should your heroine’s name be cute, feisty or dramatic? Whimsical or unusual? What do you want your hero’s name to say about him? Is he macho, mysterious, sexy, dangerous or misunderstood? Names have a power and magic of their own, and the names you choose for your characters can enhance or detract from the story.
At the same time, names that are too exotic, hard-to-pronounce or just plain weird can be off-putting to the reader. And you want to avoid naming too many characters with similar sounding names, or it can be confusing.
I approach this very important business in different ways. Sometimes, a character’s name pops into my head simultaneously with the birth of the character. Those are the easy ones. Sometimes, I consult a baby name book. Other character’s names are borrowed from family, friends . . . or even people I dislike. For example, the town bitch in the book I recently finished is named after the girl that made my daughter’s life miserable in high school. (One of the cool things about being a writer is this particular bit of evil creative license!) Sometimes when it comes to names I simply make them up out of whole cloth. However I do it, finding the perfect name for my characters is crucial to the story.
What about you? How do you go about selecting the perfect name for your literary children? Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? Would your characters BE your characters if you named them something else?
How about when you read a book? How important is it to your enjoyment of a story that you like the names of the main characters? I LOVE romance novels, gobble them up like potato chips, but I have noticed a certain penchant among romance writers for names that sound . . . . well, ROMANTIC. Alastair, Lucien, Damian, Sebastian, Sylvester, Gabriel, Rhys . . . Not a Wilber or Herbert in the bunch. Heroines, too. Penelope, Poppy, Olivia, Emma, Francesca. Mildreds and Ethels need not apply.
Similarly, what process do you go through to name your work of art when it’s finished? If naming a character is tough, coming up with the perfect name for your manuscript is even tougher. I have a pattern of naming a book one thing when I start writing it, only to change it when it’s finished, because the work has morphed into something I did not originally envision. For example, DEMONS IN DIXIE started out as DARK ENCOUNTER, a decent enough name for a paranormal romance, but not funny enough. Who knew when I started writing the darn thing that it would turn out to be funny? Not I, said the little pig. So, a name change was called for, because DARK ENCOUNTER no longer fit.
So, what’s in a name?