What’s in a name?

From one author to another: how important are character names to you? (Of course, all dear readers are invited to read on.)

Do you carefully search and select names for your characters? For all of them? Or just for the main character(s)?

I’m quite picky about names of the main characters in my stories. I usually know what I want from them. This means that I know if the name has to stand out or if it has to be very plain. Usually when one of my main characters has a secretive side I am prone to giving her or him a rather simple name, to emphasise the difference.

In the case of Hilda, my favourite wicked witch, there was a bit of a glitch in that scheme. I had originally no idea that she would become popular, so I just grabbed a name from the shoe-box of witches’ names (a.k.a. google), which was Grimhilda, and turned her into “Hilda for friends”. After so many stories it is no option to change her name, but that’s okay. I like Hilda. (Who would not want to be her friend?)

For my sci-fi stories of Breen and Kue I spent a lot of time thinking about the names. Sius Breen and Inui Kue are characters from a planet called Odis (Gods know where that name came from). Originally I had the idea of calling the planet ‘Breen’, but that did not happen. (In case you wonder about these stories: they are not officially published yet. They may be, someday. You can find them on the writer’s page of my website.) It was fascinating creating their world and culture.

For side-characters I am quite fast in deciding on names. Usually they are not that important, especially when they are ‘disposable’. Characters that I intend to make reappear will get a more thought through name, though. The closer they are to the mains, the better names they have.

“What’s in a name?” According to me, a lot.

3 thoughts on “What’s in a name?”

  1. I tend to name my main women after women that have been rude or mean to me in some way over the years. Then, I put them in situations that women don’t want to be in. Of course, I write erotica, so that works out for me.

  2. I don’t obsess over names. I know Simenon used to trawl through telephone directories to get the right name but mostly the names I’ve picked have come quickly. The first names of my protagonists, in the novels at least, begin with ‘J’ – an affectation on my part – Jonathan Payne got that surname because he was a man in pain and James Valentine got his surname because the whole book is a love-letter but I wouldn’t expect many, if any, people to make those connections. Names take on meanings. Look at a name like Harry Potter. Really it’s a fairly boring name for a hero – and I’m sure that was intentional – but after the course of even novels the name now has a meaning entirely its own. You could say exactly the same for Harry Palmer, a fairly nondescript name. I always liked John le Carré’s choice of George Smiley as a name, a quite inappropriate surname for such a serious man.

  3. When it comes to choosing names, for me, as a non fiction writer, I always have to go with something completely different to the individuals real name. Of course, this only applies to my first two non fiction books. I’m not worried about the names sounding ordinary or normal, I’m only worried about the person reading the material and realising it’s them!
    I am sure I will become more creative and clever when I start to write fiction, and have more room to choose my character description as well as their name.

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