One of the most time-consuming tasks as a soon-to-be-parent was picking just the right name for the coming baby. While the last name was a given and the gender still had to be confirmed at birth, what did I know about this child? What would their personality be like? What career would they pursue? Would they like to use a nickname or prefer a name that couldn’t be shortened? I knew nothing! So, my name-picking process came down to making sure the choice sounded good with our last name and didn’t remind me of a negative-certain-someone I once knew.
However, as an author, I name people all the time and the process is much more involved because the name of a fictional character says a lot about them. Damon Winthrop? Might be from a hoity-toity, society family full of fancy cars, expensive clothes, elite schools, and an emphasis on appearance. Herman Schwartz? Blue-collar German background with a blunt, no-nonsense approach to life. Sundance Rogers? A child from the hippie days who might go to extreme lengths to either embrace or reject that heritage.
When I’m coming up with names for the characters in my books, I not only consider the time period, culture, or nationality of the individual, but I try to capture some of their personality as well. In one story, my antagonist was named Gloria because she had to be the center of attention and get the glory while Margaret was the perfect name for the grandmother because her name brought to mind a different generation. In my debut novel releasing later this year, the heroine Cassie Parker is a spunky, former-gymnast while Reed Worthington is a large man with a noble character. In my current work-in-progress, Mitch Donovan is an Irish mountain man-type while Gabriella (Ella) Mancini is a beautiful nurturer with a large Italian family. They rub shoulders often with Tim and Grace Kingsley, a loving couple with strong faith in God. It’s subtle, but I try to pick names that reveal the character.
I’ll let you in on another little secret about how I name characters. As an avid reader myself, I get tripped up and pulled out of a story when I have to think, especially when multiple characters have similar names. Like Mike and Mark. Both are short names starting with the same letter and having another letter in common. When the eye skims along while reading, I might read one for the other and get confused for a moment. A moment just long enough to remember I have other things I should be doing besides reading. So, as a writer, I try not to repeat a starting letter for any main character in the book and then look further for a mixture of long or short names.
It takes time to find just the right name, but when I do, the character comes to life.
What about you? Do you like your name? Why or why not? Is there a story behind it? If you are a parent, how did you decide what to name your children?