Naming your characters can sometimes take as long as figuring out the plot. I always want the character name to have some reflection on the personality of the character, but it doesn’t always work out.
My Rocky Bluff P.D. series began years ago and though I was definitely concerned about picking out the perfect names for each of the characters, at that time I didn’t even consider that I shouldn’t have main characters whose names begin with the same letter. Now I’m stuck with some of them. For instance, my main detective—who was a street cop in the first and second books—is named Doug Milligan. His partner is Frank Marshall, making them Detectives Milligan and Marshall. Frank is getting close to retirement so once that happens the problem will be solved.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that for the sympathetic characters I seem to pick names of people that I really like. Of course not the whole name, but I’ve always loved the name Douglas and knew I had to use it for a hero type one day. I have a cousin and nephew named Doug. In face, with a family as big as mine, it would be impossible to avoid any of their names.
In the beginning, I hadn’t really thought much about the names for minor characters. And when Stacey Wilbur first made her appearance in Rocky Bluff, she was not that important. I’m not crazy about her name, though I’m certainly used to it by now because she’s become a major character and especially in Angel Lost as she’s preparing for her wedding to Doug Milligan. (Sometimes I feel the same way about the names my grandkids have chosen for their children but once they arrive the names seem to fit--and It's kind of that way in my books too.)
When I was choosing names for my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series, I wanted my heroine who is part Indian, to have a name that sounded Native American. I chose to use my own great-grandmother’s name because I thought it fit the character. (And the first Tempe Crabtree has been long gone so I knew she wouldn’t mind—and the relatives who actually read my books think it’s great to have great-grandma immortalized, so to speak.) Another major Indian character is Nick Two John. I heard the name Two John and thought it would be a good one to use for Tempe’s friend who has educated her about her Native American heritage. My latest in this series is Invisible Path.
All the real-life Indians I know have quite common American sounding names and many others have Mexican roots. In fact, I try really hard not to use any of the family names of the Indians who live on the nearby reservation.
I collect names. Keeping graduation and play programs has also helped. I like to find a first name that’s unusual, fits the character, and then look for a last name that goes with the first name. Sometimes I’ll see a name in credits for a movie that I might use sometimes and quickly jot it down.
When I worked in day care, some of the girls had the most unusual first names—ones it took me a while to remember—and I wrote those down. And yes, I’ve used some in different books I’ve written.
I recently read a teen book called “Prom and Prejudice” (was really fun and guess what it was based on) and the main hero’s name was Darcy. Some names are so connected to books and movies—think Rhett. Would you name a hero Rhett? Probably not, unless there was a good reason for it.
For you writers out there, how do you go about picking names for your characters? And you readers, how important is a character’s name to you?
Marilyn a.k.a. F. M. Meredith