If you’re a writer reading this you’ll know how important names are. Those you give your characters make them who they are; your readers are less likely to believe that a teenager is called Beryl or Ernest than Megan or Nathan (my neighbour’s children).
Which leads me nicely on to sounds. One of my Monday night critique group has two major characters that we’ve been hearing about for quite a few fortnights, as the chapters of her wonderful Norfolk-based historical novel progress and it wasn’t until last Monday when they were in a scene together that their names leapt out at me (no-one, including her, had twigged the similarity ’til then): Wilbur and Will Burns, so I suggested she have a rethink. Having written a significant chunk of the novel she, Pat, is now faced with the dilemma of sticking with them (we do like the names) or changing one of them.
Likewise whilst alliteration works well in poetry you don’t want a story, unless clearly intended, with a Mark, Michael and Morris. I know some families whose offsprings’ names begin with the same letter and whilst only my mum and I share the same initial in our family it was confusing when I lived at home when the post arrived. In longer pieces of fiction if similar names are mentioned on a fairly often basis it’s likely to be quite jarring for your reader and the last thing you want to do is give them an excuse to put the book down or switch off.
So, you want to chose names carefully because you never know when your short story may grow legs, turn into a best-selling novel and your agent / publisher want a series featuring characters you’re not particularly passionate about. If you’re not, it will likely show in your writing and your readers will feel the same.
At the point when your writing career takes off is when your name becomes your brand and whilst I chose Morgen because of German connections (it means ‘morning’ and I’m a morning person) and because I had a dog of that name (and still have Bailey – the Jack Russell-cross whose photo adorns this blog’s Podcast page) but mainly because it’s generic. I’m not tied to writing under a specific gender, although my ‘avatar’ gives that away. Whilst I’m often incorrectly greeted as Morgan (the usual spelling) I don’t regret choosing this name. I like it and if you pick wisely, your characters will soon tell you whether they like theirs. It’s amazing sometimes if you’re not warming to a story you’re writing and you change the character’s name how they take on a completely different persona and that’s what so great about fiction – you create the person and watch them grow.
Coming next: Blog interview with horror / thriller / sci-fi author Colin Barnes (www.colinfbarnes.com).