The last of my posts for the recent poll!
This post was really Steve's idea, as he knows all too well the frustration, annoyance and general lunacy that can inflict me when I'm trying to name characters. The fact is, when you've written well over fifty stories, you kind of start running out of names you like and kind of start having to reuse them. But the problem with reusing names is that, with me at least, I start associating the old character's personality with the new one.
You know how you might have a friend called Tom, who's completely childish and stupid, and you just can't name a character Tom because you know you'll start thinking of him as childish and stupid? Yep. That's my problem. And a name has to be right, has to suit the character to a T, otherwise he or she lacks that authentic ring.
So how do I name characters, and what qualities do the names have to possess?
1. Top of the list: I have to like the name. I can't name a character HotStuff McLean (no offense to anyone called Hotstuff McLean) when I know that won't let me take him seriously.
2. I prefer names that aren't terribly common. In ECHOES, for instance, some of my characters are named Echo, Sean, Erik, Matthew, Mina and Declan. Most of which aren't unusual names, but you don't hear them every single day. They're not Tom or Harry or Emily. All of which I like, but I just know too many Toms, Harrys and Emilys to be able to separate their personalities from my characters.
3. When I attach a name to a character, they have to click. If there's no sudden spark, it just doesn't work. I know. I'm fussy.
4. The name has to, obviously, be appropriate to the character's race/gender/religion/ethnicity/nationality, though I will admit I bend the rules for this one as far as I think is reasonable and believable.
5. For some characters, a name with iconic literary, mythological or historical connotations is just perfect if that's the kind of irony or impression I want to convey. My first choice for a last name for Sean, in ECHOES, was Holmes (because he shares many Sherlock-ian qualities), but I decided in the end to scrap that and to use the comparison in a more natural way through the text. By pointing the comparison out in the actual text, I've opened up room for foreshadowing and irony that Sherlock Holmes fans will appreciate (I think) and those who know nothing about the stories won't be any poorer off.
6. The actual process: I look through lists and lists of baby names, often narrowing them down by gender or nationality or origin. I ask Steve for suggestions and then shout at him when he gives me ones I don't like. (As I've said before, his patience with my writerly whims is legendary.) I pick names I like, try them out for a few paragraphs, and then change them when they don't work.
7. Sometimes I get really lucky. A couple years ago, I wrote a novel called NO DREAMS IN WHITESHIRE. When thinking of the main character, I didn't even have to try thinking of a name: somehow, the name Jake Quin popped into my head, utterly unbidden and utterly free of any outside influence. I swear I wanted to open a bottle of champagne and serenade my brain. Often, though, this is the exception rather than the norm.
How do you name your characters? How do you pick that right name? What requirements do these names have to meet, or are you less fussy than I am? And to those of you who don't write but love to read, how important are character names to you? Do you remember them better based on anything?