Rhobin’s question this month comes in two parts. How do you select your characters’ names? Are there any you avoid?
As I set my writing mostly in the UK, I try to find regional names. This is relatively easy for surnames.
I was once told a story by a professional colleague. He was living in London for work, but when he went home to the north east and tried to book a table in a restaurant, he was thrilled to be told by the waiter: “I’m sorry, sir, Gunn isn’t enough, I’ll need a first name.” He went on to say that was when he knew he was home.
Geographical names can break both ways. It may mean a character is local born and bred or it may identify one as having come into the area from elsewhere. Both results are useful.
First names are a whole other ball game. How often does a writer find themselves with a stuck letter? Every first name you think of starts with a V or an E or a T. That is a major irritation and I can spend quite a bit of time scratching my head till I move away from that dominating letter and achieve a variety.
Writing historical fiction also provides challenges. There weren’t that many first names in regular use. In real life and times of, for example, the Tudors, many men were called William or Thomas (Will or Tom). So, in a way, if you do name each character with an individual name, you’re missing out on historical accuracy. On the other hand, it helps the reader.
In my own family, many of the women were called Janet or Jessie. There’s one man in the family tree who married three times and two of his wives were called Janet. James and John pop up, too, and Joan and Agnes. Elizabeth or its derivatives, Liz, Lizzie, Liza, Bunty, Betty, Bet have had a strong influence in twentieth century choices.
I would usually seek out an appropriate first name and, where regional variation exists, eg Bet in the north of England, Bunty in central Scotland, go for that. However, in my historical fiction I’ve tended to seek out or make up suitably aged names. Mariah semed to me to be both elegant and old. Bella was chosen as a diminutive of Isabella and less formal because my heroine had flaming red hair and was a little headstrong. The Scottish Regency I’m working on at the moment has a heroine who simply refused to be Louise and is now Louisa. Three cheers for Find & Replace. I think she’s the first of my characters who’s done this.
Are there any I avoid?
Apart from Judith, I avoid Shakespearian names like Cordelia or Goneril. I avoid using place names for people. I’m careful over Biblical names – have they come into general use like Josh, Mary, Elizabeth or would they be geographically correct? If not, is there a reason a person with that name has moved. In today’s global village society, there may well be.
I have no characters with a double first name like Marie-Claire. That’s simply personal preference and if I wrote a book with a French main or major character, I might well opt for a double first name. Some of them are both pretty and romantic.
How do others approach this? why not visit the blogs below?
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Anne Stenhouse http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog
Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-2i7
Marci Baun http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobincourtright.com