Sunday, 28 November 2010

What's in a name?

So today I want to consider character names.  How do you pick yours?
I am a little sad and keep notes on all the Mills and Boon/Harlequin books I've read.  One of the things I keep notes on is the names.  Now I read mainly Medicals but also some Romance, some American Romance and some Modern.  And I have a little list of the favourite names.  For heroes it is Max, Nick, Mac, Luke, Jake and James.  For heroines Maggie, Francesca, Izzy and Annie.  And GULP I've used one from each list in stories that I've written.
This year, during Romance is Not Dead it was one of the things I noticed about the first chapters.  The character names.  Sometimes, they really threw me out of the story.  When I see a name, I can hear myself saying it in my head.  But, quite often, during Romance is Not Dead, particularly in Historicals and Paranormals, I came across some strange names.  Some I couldn't even have pronounced no matter how hard I tried.  Whilst I am sure there was a good reason for the names, it really threw me out the story.  I stumbled every time I read a name that I couldn't even begin to pronounce and I lost the flow of the story.
It is also interesting that this year one of my comments from the New Writers Scheme, run by the RNA, was that the person giving feedback on my story hated my heroine's name.  And she told me.  Even though she didn't know why.  And she particularly hated it when my hero shortened the heroine's name.  Her name was Melissa by the way, occasionally shortened to Missy.
So I have to put my hands up and admit that I know that sometimes I am put off a story by a name.  Particularly when it reminds me of the school bully, or someone I really don't like.  And no matter how good that story is, it will never be a keeper for me.
When I was writing my latest story I had a name hurdle.  My heroine's name didn't sit quite right.  Then one day, as I typed, I just changed it mid chapter.  And suddenly the story just felt right.  Has that ever happened to you?  Tell me how you feel about names.  And if there are any you really, really hate!


  1. I love names. I'll even admit that I also keep lists of names on scrap pieces of paper, so basically all over the house and not at all organised the way they should be...

    I love to learn to pronounce a new name. I'd never come across Niamh before and Monica McInerney very cleverly worked the correct way of pronouncing it into the book. Similar to how JK Rowling ended the debate on how to pronounce Hermione.

    I haven't worked out how to get around the school bully reminders but I find it lessens with great characterization.

    Loved your post!

  2. Names are difficult aren't they? I find that if I hate the name I can't get into the book, especially if it's the hero. I read a fantastic paranormal a while ago that I really, really liked but...the hero's name was Colin. And I'm afraid that's not a name for a hero for me (apologies to any Colins out there). Luckily the writing was so good I managed to get over the name but it still bothered me the whole way through.
    I do worry that I'm going to run out of nice hero names though. There are only so many to go around!

    BTW, interesting you should mention Niamh, Lacey. That's the name of the heroine in my WIP. Tricky one to pronounce.

  3. I love names, and like naming children, naming characters, I find is HARD. I like strong names for my hero. I've had Aidan, Adam, Lucas, Cooper and Blake and I tend to do a mixed bag of names for my heroines. I swing between unisex names like Blair and Darcy to more girly names like Jessica and Abby.

    But I too form an opinion about the character based on a name!

    Jackie - I love the name Niamh!

    Oh, and my sisters name is Melissa, I always thought it a lovely name, and preferred it to my own! Seriously, would you name a character Janette? I wouldn't!!

  4. Lacey - thanks for the post. I'm resisting the temptation to send you a little hardback notebook to write all your notes in!!
    Jackie - mmmmm Colin - no doesn't work for me either! And I love the name Naimh, used to work as a health visitor and it was quite a popular girls name, also sometimes spelt Neve, which sort of 'spells it the way you say it'.
    Janette - I seem to have more fun naming the boys than the girls, strange. As for your name, I've got two friends, both in there late 30's one Janette, the other Jeanette. I call both of them Jinty! There used to be a girls magazine called that when I was a youngster, so it reminds me of that. And I like the name Melissa too, so I'm keeping it!

  5. Names - especially ones that don't "work" really do pull you out of a story. I remember reading a HM&B by a famous author who's hero was called "Quentin". Yuk! I couldn't get past the 1st page! I definitely wouldn't have bought the book but it was part of my monthly delivery from M&B. Caroline xx

  6. I'm horrible at naming characters, but my current hero is Nick, so I'm glad that's on your list of favourites.


  7. I love the name Melissa and have a half started ms tucked away somewhere with a heroine of the same name. I think it's really pretty.

    I'm afraid I'm really shallow when it comes to names, if the hero/heroine are called names I don't like or people who were mean to me at school (!!) then I can't get past that and read the book. Silly, I know, but I really need to like both names to read the book.

    In my current WIP, the heroine and her siblings are all called after states in the US--they had very weird parents ;-)

  8. I used to be a teacher, so I often think of my students' surnames. For first names, I like something a bit different for my main character.. I usually trawl the internet!

    Thank you for getting my book, btw! :) Sorry it's taken me so long to make it over here to say that!

  9. Caroline - Quentin??!!! Yuck! Right there with you, it just doesn't say "hero" does it? Hope things are going well with the bungalow x
    Suzanne - Nick is a good name. I can see Nick stripped to the waist looking very sexy. Mmmm....give me your hero please!
    Joanne - let me join you in the shallowness. There's something really significant about any bad experience, particularly school ones, and those names are just never going to be heroes or heroines, are they? Like the idea of kids named after Us states and at least I'll be able to pronounce them in my head!
    Talli - it was a pleasure buying your book, congratulations on a such a successful campaign and I'm looking forward to reading it x

  10. Great advice on picking names. Thanks for the post Susan and thanks to all the commentors for all the tips!