The write stuff - choosing characters names


Coming up with the right name for characters can be a tricky business. Sometimes they come to me completely out of the blue, as I am creating a character, other times I will struggle to find the name that best suits that particular character and until I do the personality refuses to come fully alive.

The name has to fit. If it's not right then the character isn't right.

When seeking inspiration for first names I turn to my little book of baby's names or I will look up websites of baby's names. I also keep an ear out for any unusual or interesting names when meeting people and will jot these down. In addition, I find graveyards a great place for picking up intriguing first names. The name also needs to fit with the age and nationality although you can have exceptions.

There are, however, dangerous waters to navigate when choosing names for your characters.

One of those is over using a name. The more novels I write the more in danger I am of repeating names, (it's easy to forget what you have already used). For some reason I seem to have a penchant for the name Eric (no idea why) and when I did a search through previous novels found that I’d used it before for different characters, albeit minor ones. So no more Erics.

Another danger is picking a name, first or surname, that is so complex the reader can't get his or her head round it. Many readers tell me that if they can't actually pronounce the name they can't get inside the character's mind. Some will even give up reading the book and won't therefore try that author's next novel and that would be a real shame for the author.

Readers also tell me that some novelists have too many characters’ surnames all beginning with the same letter and they find this very confusing. Now I scrutinize my work to check that not everyone has a surname beginning with the letter ‘C’. Not sure why I gravitate towards ‘C’ but I do.

When it comes to choosing surnames, I let my finger do the walking around a road map or atlas, then I see if the surname fits with the first name and the character.

And finally where did the name of my main characters come from?

For Art Marvik I wanted a tough sounding name (as he's a tough but vulnerable guy) and here I was influenced by the character called Art in the film Mercury Rising played by the excellent Bruce Willis. I chose Marvik because Art's mother came from Finland and I felt it had a Scandi feel to it.

With Inspector Andy Horton I've really no idea where his name sprang from. It just came to mind and stuck.  It wasn't until I had written quite a few novels featuring him however that I was contacted by his namesake in Hampshire Constabulary. I was until then oblivious that a real Inspector Horton existed.

A polite e mail asked me whether my character and his name had been inspired by him - the real thing!  I replied saying that if he was tall, good looking and fit then yes of course my Andy Horton was based on him. He replied saying he was indeed tall and fit, and his wife thought him good looking. I was somewhat relieved to find the real Inspector Houghton had a sense of humour and spelt his name differently. No need for the handcuffs then.

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