How should I name fictional characters?

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You folks are smart, and you have seen at least one horror movie, so you already know that naming something gives you power over it. This is the one consideration that doesn’t matter at all when naming your own characters. You will have total sway over them no matter what you decide to call them, so relax, Mrs. Snacks.

There are a few choices that could make your job harder, like helping your readers  distinguish between characters with too-close names. Kylie and Klammy would give you no end of difficulty. Klammy is taller, you say, and she’s afraid of spiders. That doesn’t help. I’m still going to be Konfused.

It’s not a good idea to pull distinct, full names from historical records, if you are writing 100% fiction. You wouldn’t want to presume that Absalom Clevenger’s descendants are fine with your portrayal of their ancestor, even if the name is incredibly perfect for your purposes. Even if he really did pull off a remarkable feat of river piracy, they won’t thank you for dragging all that up again.

Joseph Smith is a fine character name, but you might research, just in case the very ordinary name you choose evokes something unintended, like Mormons.

If it’s your intention to have a character suggest something with her name, don’t be too subtle, unless you want only ten readers to wink back at your ambitious architect, Miss Bozarts.

I just finished reading Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One, and I think he did a nice job of making me feel clever for spotting things like naming his main character Aimée, which means beloved. [Poor Aimée–not one person in the entire story loves her properly. It’s a tragedy of comic proportions and it’s as slight as a screen play. I’m pretty sure he intended it to become a screen play all along. If anyone has seen the film, please stop me before I order the disc!! I have to say, the cast is to die for.]

loved one 1965

Tab Hunter is one of those great names, so distinct and evocative. Was he born Tab? Oh, of course not, he was originally Arthur Kelm.

Anyway, the names of your characters are your choice, always.

What I like to do, is to gnaw through old census records, figuratively, of course. There, you get an idea of common family names for immigrants from various countries. You also might avoid the embarrassment of having a 19th century immigrant from a country that didn’t exist, like The Land of Dutch. You get a clear sense of the names people had, or were allowed to have, coming to America.

Dirk Difenderfer? Of course. He would need to be a difficult fellow, possibly Prussian.

I have not given any of my characters middle names, because I believe that once I do that, I will inevitably forget and give them another erroneous middle name next time around. If I need a crib sheet to keep track of the names, readers are going to feel that they’ve slipped into a Russian novel by mistake.

Keep it simple, Wilbur X. Rocket.

Most of all, be sure that you choose names that you won’t mind typing one million times. I have some regret for doggedly keeping my Samuel without ever using the diminutive of his name. He could have been Sam every damn time.

Hey you!! What’s your favorite literary name? Zaphod Beeblebrox? Would you believe that I spelled that without looking  it up? There’s a commenty box down there somewhere. Drop me a name!!

And another thing–Have you reviewed my book? No? Didn’t read it yet? Why not? I bet I have a coupon my my coupon pocket, just ask!!

Further, further reading:

Undertakers, Harlots and Other Odd Bodies is out now. A free preview is available and all electronic formats are priced at a very reasonable US$5.99!!(Still $3.99 this week!!)

The paperback available through  IndieBound is gorgeous, three dimensional, and handily delivered to your local independent bookstore for US$14.99.

Other places the print version is for sale (US$14.99, new) for the benefit of people who prefer paper: | | IndieBound  | BetterWorldBooks | Alibris

Ebook retailers: Apple | Kobo | | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords | Scribd




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