What’s In A Name?

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” Juliet says to Romeo, arguing against the notion that he has the name of a rival family.

I have to disagree with her on this point. Names are important. It’s why I still insist on being Ms Townsend, even after getting married, and why I don’t write under a pseudonym. I’ve been Sara Jayne Townsend for 42 years, and I’m not about to change now. I’ve played about with hyphenating the two names, and had a very brief spell, aged about 13, when I decided I preferred ‘Sarah’ to ‘Sara’. But ultimately this is my name, and it might not be very special or significant, at least to anyone else, but it’s mine, and it’s part of what makes me who I am.  With a different name, I’d feel like a different person.

The same can be said for character names. They must be chosen very carefully. I’m writing in the ‘real’ world, on the whole, so perhaps have an easier job than SF and fantasy writers, who have to make up names. But even so, much thought goes into character names. It’s why a book of baby names lives on my shelf of writing reference books, in spite of the fact I am well known as a person with no interest whatsoever in having children.

Sometimes characters seem to name themselves, but the names that attach themselves to the characters conjure up connotations and aspects of how that character is developing in my mind. The young protagonist of SUFFER THE CHILDREN, Leanne, seemed to name herself without a great deal of thought from me. It’s a name that to me conjures up connotations of a tough but vulnerable person. It’s a fairly modern name, so it suited a young person. The character Carrie, on the other hand, I purposefully named after a Stephen King novel, because I wanted to pay homage to a writer who has provided a great deal of inspiration to me for most of my writing life.

As for naming the boys, I have to say that when I write men – and I am of the opinion I’m not terribly good at writing men – I do tend to write about my ideal men, as I’m sure a lot of writers do. However, my concept of the ideal man is sensitive, intelligent, introverted and geeky, which pretty much describes Simon in SUFFER THE CHILDREN. The aggressive Alpha male is not a turn on for me. Give me a geek any day.

My first two serious adolescent crushes – the kind when you start writing their names in hearts all over the cover of your school exercise books – were, firstly Mark Hamill (I first saw Star Wars a month before my 13th birthday, and it was a revelation – up until then boys had largely been an alien species for me), and shortly afterwards, Simon Le Bon, when I first got into Duran Duran. So the names Simon and Mark have, to me, always suggested desirable men. No real surprise, then, that the hero of my first published novel is called Simon, and the hero of my current WIP horror novel is called Mark.

It’s difficult, though, with names, especially when you’re going with real-life ones, because sometimes people you know make the assumption that if you use their name in a book, you are basing the character on them. The horror WIP has characters called Helen, Mark and David. There are people with these names in the T Party, but I can say, in all honesty, that none of my characters are based on anyone in the writing group. If I do base characters on people in real life, I don’t give them the same name as the real life person. For instance, the character of Jonathan in DEATH SCENE is based on a real person. But that person’s name isn’t Jonathan. And that’s all I’m prepared to say on that subject.

Where do you get inspiration from for your character names?

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1 comment so far

  1. April Plummer (@April_Plummer) on

    “It’s difficult, though, with names, especially when you’re going with real-life ones, because sometimes people you know make the assumption that if you use their name in a book, you are basing the character on them.”

    Yes! I have avoided putting in names of people I know, or at least people close to me, for that very reason!

    Inspiration, so far, has just come from the characters themselves. Well, okay, not completely true. The MC’s names generally come out by themselves because there always seems to be one special name that works for each.

    For minor characters, I pick at random and hope it works. Or I pick something that seems to fit. But I consciously choose them.

    Male characters are more difficult. The first male character name I used was just a favorite of mine, whatever I’d name my first born. LOL. Usually for male characters, that’s what I do. The major male characters, I mean – I choose one of my baby names. When I run out, I guess I’ll have to come up with a new plan!


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