Monday, March 12, 2012

Character Names

When I started writing the Caribbean Adventure Series, I named the children Mark, Kyle, and Ingrid. The process was effortless, the names just came to me and stuck. I gave my childhood friend, Ingrid, a heads-up that she was about to be hounded by the paparazzi for being featured in a best-seller, but the big issue turned out to be that Kyle was the name of the son of one of my employees. He, of course, was ecstatic although it was pure coincidence and there was no resemblance between the real boy and the fictional character. My children were not pleased and have hounded me ever since to write stories that feature them as characters.

Now I put a little more thought into the names that I choose. For example, I am writing a short story about a snake and the name 'Sammy' popped into my head. If you grew up watching Sesame Street, you may remember a character who sang one song which went something like this:
"I am Sammy the Snake and I look like the letter 'S'."

The fact that the name was not original was just a small part of my problem. I named his brother Stanley, and when I read the story out loud I realised that young children would be easily confused by the similarity of the names - Sammy and Stanley, Stanley and Sammy, even I had difficulty keeping them straight. Right now, I feel as if I have spent more time naming these snakes than I did choosing the names of my own children!

How important is it to give your characters carefully considered names? Names are very suggestive, they suggest certain characteristics, eras and locations. Some names immediately bring certain personalities to mind. A character named Freddie in a horror story may make your readers anticipate scenes from Friday the 13th, whereas Freddie may be perfectly realistic as the captain of a ship.

Does anyone else agonise over character names?


Charles Gramlich said...

For me, once a name is assigned to a character I have a hard time imagining them as anything else, so changing the names is tough. For realistic fiction, such as noir or YA, I often go with gut instinct. For fantasy, I put a lot of thought and effort into developing the names, particularly with the spelling and the potential different ways it could be pronounced.

Carol Mitchell said...

Pronunciation is an important consideration as well. I recall one incident (I don't remember what the book was) when I read a book and then saw the movie only to find that I had been mispronouncing a character's name. Quite unsettling.

G. B. Miller (aka G) said...

I try to go with names that would fit the type of character as well as the ethnicity of said character, but I try to temper it by not going completely overboard by giving them such far out names that I would actually cringe while I was editing the story.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Carol, I had that same experience with James Patterson Alex Cross series and the character Gary Soneji. Only when I saw the movie I realized I was pronouncing it wrong all the time.

For me, names come relatively easily. That is the first thing that comes to me in the book - the names of the main character. It usually describes the character to some extent. The only time I spent painstakingly choosing a name was the character Kwabena Opoku in "A Marriage of Convenience" because Ghanaian names have special meanings reflecting their birth among other things.

The Divorced Lady's Companion to Living in Italy said...

I do love Ghanaian names and have used them a lot in my stories as they are often set there. A name is so important, so visceral for the writer. I agree with Charles, once chosen they are hard to shake.

Liane Spicer said...

I sweat over the names of main characters before I begin the story to ensure that they 'fit'. By the time I start writing I know these people so well it would be very difficult for me to rename them midstream. I've used names of people I know, names I've made up and names I've found via online research; it all depends on the needs of the persona.