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.
Some better writers than me have chosen their character names very well. Zoe Sharp’s heroine Charlotte Fox goes by the name Charlie which alters her persona by making her seem more macho with the shortening of her name.
Michael Connolly’s main protagonist is called Hieronymus Bosch after the painter but his Christian name is shortened to Harry. This gives Connolly the opportunity to introduce Bosch’s backstory whenever he wants.
Some character names such as Matt Hilton’s Joe Hunter or Tom Woods’ Victor do little more than offer a “does what it says on the tin” message about the character.
The reasoning above is why deciding on a character’s name is one of the most important parts of writing for me. I feel that if I get that right then I’m halfway to being able to depict what I need to about my characters.
If any of readers of this post can leave me a comment on how they choose a character name then I’d be grateful for any tips or advice.
I don’t know why but I’ve been hooked on the name Elliot / Elliott, which is handy as I can use it as a first- and surname. Thank you, Graham.
Graham Smith is married with a young son. A time served joiner he has built bridges, houses, dug drains and slated roofs to make ends meet. For the last eleven years he has been manager of a busy hotel and wedding venue near Gretna Green, Scotland.
An avid fan of crime fiction since being given one of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books at the age of eight, he has also been a regular reviewer and interviewer for the well respected review site Crimesquad.com for over three years.
He has three collections of short stories available as Kindle downloads and has featured in anthologies such as True Brit Grit and Action: Pulse Pounding Tales as well as appearing on several popular ezines.
You can find Graham via…
- Twitter – @GrahamSmith1972
- Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/Grahamsmithauthor
- Blog – http://grahamsmithwriter.blogspot.com
- Amazon Author Pages – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Graham-Smith/e/B006FTIBBU and http://www.amazon.com/Graham-Smith/e/B006FTIBBU
- Goodreads – http://www.goodreads.com/grahamsmith
- Gutshots: Ten Blows to the Abdomen – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gutshots-Ten-Blows-Abdomen-ebook/dp/B0089YIOJS and http://www.amazon.com/Gutshots-Ten-Blows-Abdomen-ebook/dp/B0089YIOJS
- Harry Charters Chronicles – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Harry-Charters-Chronicles-ebook/dp/B007712QB6 and http://www.amazon.com/Harry-Charters-Chronicles-ebook/dp/B007712QB6
- Eleven The Hardest Way – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Eleven-The-Hardest-Way-ebook/dp/B00771BMJ8 and http://www.amazon.com/Eleven-The-Hardest-Way-ebook/dp/B00771BMJ8
- Off the Record 2: At the Movies – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Off-Record-Movies-Charity-Anthology/dp/1291093672
- True Brit Grit – http://www.amazon.co.uk/True-Brit-Grit-Anthology-ebook/dp/B007Y0FBNU
- Action: Pulse Pounding Tales – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Action-Pulse-Pounding-Tales-ebook/dp/B008082QP6
- Flashy Shorts – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Flashy-Shorts-ebook/dp/B008QQM4IQ
Graham is also running ‘Crime and Publishment’, a fantastic weekend of crime writing courses (I can say that because I was at the first one last March). 2014’s author tutors are Chris Ewan, Zoe Sharp and Michael Malone. Darren Laws of Caffeine Nights will be teaching attendees how to pitch to a publisher and will also be accepting pitches. More information on Crime and Publishment can be found at http://www.crimeandpublishment.co.uk and https://www.facebook.com/CrimePublishment.
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