Monday, 7 July 2008

What's in a Name?

I recently read an article in the Writers' Forum Magazine about how important it is to choose the right names for the fictional characters we write about, and it got me thinking about how I chose the names for the people in my novel-in-progress.
My villain of the piece was easy. She was a real life countess who ruled her lands with a heart of steel. Erzsebet (Elizabeth) Bathory. I didn't even think about changing her name. It suited an evil vampiress more than any name I could make up, so it stayed.
My hero was a bit more tricky. I wanted a simple plain english name, but one that, I hoped, would be memorable. I decided to call my hero Adam. After all he was the first man I had created for a full-length novel, so what was more fitting than the name of the first man God created? When it came to giving him a surname, I remembered the novels I had read by Susan Howatch. Ms Howatch had always used the place names from the areas she set her stories in. So out came my tattered old map of Kent, and there I found the name Pevensey Bay. So Adam Pevensey was born.
The names of my lesser characters were no less important to me, and I sometimes found myself stumped for hours...days...weeks, until I could come up with a name I would be happy with. As all you writers out there know, we have to live with these names for months at a time, so they must be ones we feel comfortable with.
When I think of my favourite books by my favourite authors I realise they are alive with wonderful names. Scarlett O' Hara. David Copperfield. Philip Pirrip. Pennywise the Clown. Jane Eyre. Demelza Poldark. Skin Kadash...the list goes on and on.
So, how important are your characters names to you? And how do you go about naming them.....?


Vesper said...

Very interesting! I like the name Adam Pevensey.
Food for thought... I've always had trouble with choosing characters' names. I've never looked for them specifically. The ones I like most came to me by chance, a name glimpsed in a newspaper or in a phone book while searching for something else.

Mad Asthmatic said...

a fellow writers forum magazine reader. I found that article interesting and helpful as well. I sometimes use anagrams of other peoples names to come up with characters names. Even if it doesn't supply with a name it can provide endless entertainment.

Monique said...

Good post Akasha. Names, names, names. I sometimes use phonebooks like vesper. But I agree with you, you always remember the names from favourite novels and they must have been carefully chosen by the author.

Like you I can think for weeks of a name and then again for ages before I find the right surname.

BTW Middle Ditch 16 is posted.

Ello said...

Great post! I actually had this major dilemma going on myself which I finally resolved, I hope, for the best. Since I was using characters based in ancient Korea I needed good Korean names. But I also wanted names that would be easily pronounceable for non-Koreans. Thus my dilemma. I initially chose the name Jilin for my King. I thought it sounded dignified and worked well for the character. But then I found that it was a Chinese name and not Korean so I had to find one that worked. Did a lot of research and came up with Eojin, which I actually like a lot better. King Eojin - actually has a Tolkien sound to it, I thought!

Akasha Savage said...

vesper - glad you like the name Adam Pevensey...I'm rather fond of it my mind's eye he is a bit Orlando Bloomy!

mad asthmatic - welcome to the Darkside! What a good idea using anagrams of other people's names. I believe there a website or two where you can put in names and they give you alternatives.

monique - glad you liked the post. I will be along to read Middle Ditch very soon.

ello - I lurve that name King Eojin, you're right: very Tolkienish! ;)

Leigh Russell said...

Names are crucial. Sometimes the name almost defines the character. Even the minor characters. I can agonise (I exaggerate slightly - ) over names. I sometimes use road names for surnames. In fact, you could plot my route to work from the surnames of my characters in one book. I recently spotted a couple of road names next to each other: Kelly Court and Dennis Lane, which I think I might use...

tykobrie said...

I'm not a writer, just a cat lover. Apologies for such a late reply, but I hardly look at my blog because of time.

Thank you for your visit and leaving such a lovely comment.