The Importance of Names
I’m currently plotting my next trilogy in my Ladies’ Wagering Whist Society series. The first thing I do is work on my characters, because it is from characters that the plot grows.
As I’m doing this, I’m getting input and help from my daughter, who has some very strong opinions on names. This made me start thinking about how I was naming these people and how I came up with the names of the characters I’ve already written about.
Names are vitally important.
They shape us and when you are creating a fictional person, they can even shape that person’s character. It goes both ways—you need a name to go with the type of person you are developing and from having that name the character will continue to develop in a particular way.
There are so many factors that I take into consideration when choosing a character’s name:
- Popularity of the name at the time the book is set: You can’t be anachronistic with names. I couldn’t possibly name a character by a name that didn’t exist at the time my book is set and I try to be historically accurate by choosing names that were actually popular at the time. Yes, this limits me to some very ordinary names (like John, Mary, Ann and Jane), but if they work, they work!
- The character’s parents who supposedly named them and what was important to them: Since it is supposedly a character’s parents who named them (and not me), it’s natural to think of how people would name their children. The daughters of the archaeologist, Lord Pemberton-Howe (from the Grace sisters books, A Dandy in Disguise, My Lord Ghost and My Gentleman Thief), wouldn’t be named Mary or Ann, they would have ancient Greek names—Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and Thalia.
- How I think readers will react to the name: If a name is weak-sounding, I couldn’t give it to a hero. I’m sorry, but I’d never name a here Arnold or Frank. They don’t sound strong to my ear. I wanted to name one of my hero’s Reginald and my daughter objected strongly.
- How I relate to the name—my experience with people with that name and what it invokes in me: Name associations are really important. Sometimes I find I really need to get over an association because it’s limiting how I name my characters. An example of this is the name Aaron. I had a friend when I was growing up with that name who was a very strange person and he grew up to be a very strange man with very low ambitions for himself. I’ve never associated the name in any sort of positive light. But I knew that a character from one of my books needed to have that name, so I changed the spelling from Aaron to Aron. Just doing that much allowed it to be a new name for me and I could fall in love with my Aron and not think badly of him because of his name.
For better or worse, names will make or break a character. It will sometimes determine whether a reader loves them or not. Names are powerful and invoke so much emotion. Are there any names that you’ve been drawn to or, conversely, stayed away from in your characters?