Wednesday, 8 February 2012

A Rose By Any Other Name

It’s very important to choose the right names for your characters just as it’s important to choose the right names for your children.
Readers have a certain expectation. If you are writing about a woman in her eighties then she wouldn’t be called Kylie or Jade but would much more likely be an Olive or Kathleen. A boy from a poor background living on a run down estate is unlikely to be called Tarquin. If you were writing about the children of celebrities then Apple, Peaches or perhaps Satsuma might be appropriate – the fruitier the better.
We produce an A4 sheet with information about each of our main characters. Having built up a profile of them we then make sure they have a fitting name. Sometimes this takes several attempts before we are satisfied. At times the name has to be changed because we have chosen too many beginning with the same letter which can be confusing for the reader. If our heroine is called Samantha then we are careful to be consistent when other characters call her Sam. It can be an added difficulty if one of us knows someone called Samantha and doesn’t like her much or she is in total contrast to our fictional character.
Dickens cornered the market in unmistakable names. Polly Toodle, Wackford Squeers and Luke Honeythunder being a few examples.
The good thing is that the characters in your story or novel can’t complain about the names you’ve given them. This is in contrast to your children who will complain that their names are too short, too long, too unusual or too common depending on what they’ve been given.
For places we try not to choose real names or replicate ones already used by other people. In the pocket novel we are writing at the moment we had chosen Medchester as the name of the town, but now see that Sally has used Midchester. Back to the drawing board. We try to choose an appropriate sounding name. We thought Medchester would be good for a town in the Midlands and names starting Tre/Pol/Pen sound Cornish.
Choosing names for people, towns, shops, rivers and hotels is all part of the fun of writing.


  1. I so agree about choosing the right names. I often start with one and realise she or he doesn't fit my image. You mentioned Olive .. I've just called someone Olive in my current WIP! I often set my books in Cornwall so yes, the Tre/Pol and Pen feature. I make up names always for the main setting but characters visit Truro, Penzance, St Ives etc. I know them all well enough to use proper descriptions without causing a problem. I never advertise a known hotel, shop etc. as someone would be certain to complain. One tip I have learned (after a huge error once) is to Google a 'made up' name to see if they exist really. My last one turned out to be a US senator so I quickly altered it! Don't want to be sued. Now back to 1952 to meet up with my characters again.

  2. I agree about the importance of the right names, Patricia. Until I have a name I don't have a character. The same with the setting. And I'm sorry about getting there first with Midchester! It was going to be Middleton, but I saw that someone else had already used that.

  3. Chrissie, we've just sent off our latest novella which is set in the 1950s and has Olive as a character!

    1. Snap! Mine's the 5th part of the original trilogy. Not sure what you call that!

  4. I battle with choosing names for my characters, it's so true that they have to be absolutely right. Love some of Dickens names and also Thomas Hardy used to have a pretty good line in intriguing names such as Fancy Day, Angel Clare (a bloke!), and Gabriel Oak who I always thought was incredibly aptly named being as dependable as the proverbial oak. It's a very good idea to Google names as often they slip into one's brain subliminally and you think you've come up with something new when you haven't. I remember using the name Kingsmarkham throughout a pocket novel. Luckily the editor spotted it as Ruth Rendell's fictional town. I love her novels although not the Wexford ones which is where Kingsmarkham features. Thank goodness for the 'find and replace' button.
    Cara Cooper

  5. Patricia, I absolutely agree that you need your names up front, THEN you have the character and that helps enormously in the development of the story. Well, at least for those plotters like me. :) And I find I also need the book title up front too. Once those are in place, it's all up to the imagination.