The more I write, the more I notice names.
It’s sounds petty, but picking the right name for major characters can be frustrating. First of all the name must satisfy the author’s inner sense of rightness. As writers, we are attracted to character names that either harmonize or contrast appropriately with our character’s personality. There is an almost irresistible urge to relate the name to some aspect of the character’s individuality or fate or theme within the story. Additionally, the best literary names seem to have a rhythm that is both easy for a reader to silently recognize and verbally pronounce. Buzz Lightyear. James Nightshade. Uriah Heep. Indiana Jones.
When I first started writing, I looked to online baby name websites and actually bought a couple of character naming books. The problem I found with these methods was that I kept running across the same names in other people’s writings. And the more I read, the more I run into other people’s use of ‘my’ names in their (already published) novels.
Case in point, one of the main characters in GLAMOUR originally had an uncommon name I loved and which suited him perfectly. One month before I finished the final draft of GLAMOUR, I realized that the fantasy novel I was reading at the time used the same name for a minor character. Since the book’s author was also the instructor of a class I was taking, I felt I had no choice but to change the name of my character. It took me several days to come up with a new first name, but the new first name didn’t go with the original character’s last name any more. I actually had to come up with two names. Thank goodness I’ve started collecting them.
It’s true. I scan listings of high school and pro sports team rosters, and make note of the ones that really resonate. I watch the credits on movies and television shows (although PBS is the only channel where I can actually see the credits because they don’t scroll by too fast), especially for foreign productions. I always check out the names of musicians listed on CDs I buy (a lot of musicians have great names). I even save the donor names pages of the charity newsletters I get.
Once I settle on a name, I pronounce it out loud. At least three time in a row. You’d be surprised how many names sound great in your head, but funny aloud. And even funnier as a three-times-fast tongue twister. I also look to see where the name hyphenates. For example, I wouldn’t be inclined to give a character a name that, when hyphenated, could be made unintentionally funny. Like Fart-herson.
I also search for references online. If it’s already a famous person’s name, I go back to the drawing board. In addition to the major Google and Yahoo and Bing searches, I check out the name on Amazon. I’ve often come across duplicate names in books that are already published. I’ve also started keeping a list of protagonist names in the Urban Fantasy genre, so as not to accidentally use them (or use similar-sounding names) in the future. Maybe I’m making too much of the name thing, but I want my characters to be unique and memorable for the right reasons; namely for what happens to them in my story, not someone else’s.