We all know celebrities are different – why else would chef Jamie Oliver, name his children Buddy Bear Maurice, Poppie Honey Rosie, Daisy Boo Pamela and Petal Blossom Rainbow? Superhero fan, Nicholas Cage, called his offspring Kal-el Coppola, while the Beckhams have baby Cruz, and Gwyneth Paltrow had an Apple. I’m not making these up. Check http://www.babyzone.com/babynames/celebritynames.asp for more.
Romance novels used to be a haven for exotic names – one of my earliest books featured hero, Race Wolfendale, I kid you not. Today you’re more likely to read about Matt, Jack and Adam, and that’s no bad thing. I once read an American romance where the heroine’s double-barrel name was so distracting I had to modify it in my head just to finish an otherwise enjoyable book.
So here are five handy hints for character naming:
- The name you choose should be different enough to be interesting, but not so off-the-wall as to sound ridiculous (see above). It can help to match an unusual name with a more everyday one – such as Kerry Greenwood’s lady detective of the 1920s, Phyrne (pronounced fry-nee) Fisher.
- Think about the ethnic origins of your character name. If it’s Greek (like Phryne) or Italian, can you include some ethnic aspects in your character’s background? In my book, Island of Dreams the heroine, Lisa Alexander, had Russian parents. Her birth name was Lisanko Nikitayevna Alexandrov and her parents’ refugee background had much to do with Lisa’s character. I turned plenty of mental handsprings trying to find an authentic Russian name that would convert to a convincing Australian version. The success of that book and its many translations and serialisation made the work worthwhile. More importantly, Lisa had greater depth because she wasn’t born on page one.
- Don’t stop at the first name that comes to mind. Occasionally a character will come to you fully formed including their name. This is a gift from the creative gods. Use it and be thankful. More often, writers have to work at finding the ideal combination of hero and heroine. And if you want these people to marry one day, consider how her first name and his last name will go together. If Ms. Paltrow’s daughter marries someone called Pye …well you get the idea.
- Avoid similarities between the names of main characters. This is basic but often overlooked, especially if you change a name during the book’s development without considering the other names already in place. Having a Mac and a Matt, a Jenny and a Joanne, while they may not look all that similar, can cause confusion in the reading.
- Have fun with your characters. Explore them and ask what they might be called and why. When researching for my MA, I was surprised to find that nearly all my heroines have more than one name, like Lisa above, and it was usually important to the story, yet I only connected the dots with hindsight. It’s also impossible to think of a name that doesn’t belong to some real person somewhere. As long as there aren’t too many similarities – calling your hero Fred Bloggs and making him a lawyer living in a particular part of Adelaide, say, when there’s a real person fitting all these elements – you should be OK legally. Search for a particular name on Facebook and you’ll be surprised how even the most unusual name is shared by dozens of people. I’ve had emails from people with the same names as my characters. Most are good-natured and think it’s fun. A few hint that I may have borrowed their names unfairly. I refer these to the disclaimer in every book that says any resemblance etc etc is purely coincidental. Just because a friend’s name creeps into a book now and then, as a compliment to them, doesn’t change that disclaimer one bit.
How do you choose character names? What are your favourites and least favourites in fiction, and why? Share by commenting below.
on Twitter @valerieparv