Thursday, 15 January 2015

Playing the Name Game

What is in a name?

Am I the only writer who agonises over names for days on end?  I guess I find it difficult because I think names are so important in characterisation. They give the reader clues as to what kind of person they should expect. It may seem arbitrary as we are all given names by our parents - when they have no idea what sort of people we will eventually turn out to be.  Then again, many parents agonise over their children’s names too! We give children names and then hope their characters turn out to be what we would want for them. But in the world of fiction we try to choose names that suit the character we are trying to create.
For instance, age and era play a big part in my choices. A woman who was born early 19th century would not be called Rhianna or Stacy. Just doesn’t ring true, does it? But Arabella or Victoria does. The age of characters is also important in deciding names. I can easily imagine an older man called Hector or Jeremiah but not a young boy. I think most readers meeting a character with these names would automatically have in their mind’s eye and older man even before any physical description is given.
Whether your character is the antagonist or protagonist is also important in naming. Although sometimes one might want to increase surprise by giving an evil character an innocuous name… I think it depends on how you are trying to present your story.
Male heroes names tend to be strong masculine names – they are not usually called Fred or Bert - but female heroines may also be strong ‘no nonsense’ names too. I wouldn’t choose a name like Ophelia or Primrose if I wanted my heroine to be seen as strong and capable. But then again, it is all a matter of personal choice… In fact, the more I think about it, the more I like Ophelia!!

When we are introduced to people in real life we may be told their names but it is not the only information we have of them. We can see how they behave, what they look like and hear them speak. We can make judgements about what sort of person they are (although we may turn out to be totally wrong, of course!)

But in writing fiction we have to give a strong first impression by words only to have the reader ‘see’ our character in their mind’s eye. I believe this is why names are so important. My two latest books had numerous name changes before I settled on names I liked.

In ""The Afterlife of Darkmares" all the character's names had something to do with gardens or countryside. It simply made me think harder to come up with names. For example the old lady was called Cora Gimbletree and the main character's was Kate Linden. There was also Redwood, Culpepper, Garford and Blackthorn - surnames of other characters. It also helped that the story was set in a small village in rural Derbyshire.

By contrast The Witcheye Gene had modernish names such as April, Gregory and Vince. However the main character was called Kendal ( which had a backstory all of it's own) because her parents were in Kendal Cumbria when they discovered they were having her. But I chose carefully for the name of the villain... I cannot tell here as it would spoil the story...

How much importance do you give to naming your characters? Do you agonise or go with the story and change the name later to fit the character?


  1. Writing historical fiction, I use books where names from different centuries are listed. Had a struggle for a time when looking for a name for an Anglo-Saxon dog :0)

  2. Okay. I gotta ask... What did you call it?

  3. Most of the time it changes or a character is called (?) until their name occurs to me. I find that difficult, along with titles, but then for my YA trilogy set far in the future I did have quite a lot of fun making up names that don't exist yet. They feel more distinctive for the character as opposed to commonplace names.

  4. Naming my characters is one of the joys of writing, I think. I don't give it a whole lot of thought but more of a gut feeling. In my latest novel the main character's name has symbolic significance. So far I don't think anyone has picked up on it but it delights me whenever I think of how I came on choosing her name.

  5. You are not alone, Pat. I have wasted precious hours online researching names and their meanings. It took me the whole length of writing my first novel until I came up with a name for my heroine. I just wrote '?' until I found, what I think, the perfect name. BTW, I am really enjoying The Witcheye Gene. I'll write a review on amazon as soon as I've finished. Have a great week.

  6. Thank you so much Nicola. Glad you're enjoying the book. Happy reading and writing!