What’s in a Name?
A well-chosen name can give the reader so much information before the writer even begins to flesh out the character. Take these three names for instance: Mavis, Chelsie and Quentin.
To my own mind the names conjure up the following details about the characters.
Mavis – A homely woman in her 50’s or older. Possibly a church goer and married to someone called Bernard or Ernest.
Chelsie – A young girl or child. Will probably sport a tight ponytail and wear cheap tracksuits.
Quentin – An upper class gent who is forty plus and is most likely out of touch with the real world.
The opinions are of course exaggerated but they do show the power of a name. Take Chelsie for example. If it was spelled Chelsea then it conjures up a totally different character.
The influence of names of course carries on with surnames. Names such as Fotheringay and Haythornthwaite intimate old money whereas surnames such as Baker, Fletcher and my own of Smith all suggest people whose roots lie in a particular trade or occupation.
Names can also add a certain regionality to characters. Take Angus MacPherson, Hank Mitchell III and Claudio Molinelli, you don’t need to spell out to the reader where these characters or their families hail from, as the names themselves do the work for you.
Throw in a few names such as Bernstein or Bishop and you can also suggest religious beliefs to the reader.
There are of course certain names which are best avoided. If you are writing a romantic novel then Schwarzenegger or Stallone are hardly the best names for the lead. Likewise names garnered from politicians, sports stars or musicians will always preconceive the reader’s opinion of that character. Personally I always steer clear of using the names of anyone who may be considered well known. I mean, really, who would believe a character called Tom Cruise who was six foot five and built like a brick ….. hang on a minute, I think that one may have been done.