Character names, to me, are one big headache. They cause me sleepless nights.
I spend hours, sometimes days, trying to come up with the right name for a character. I need that name before I can write anything involving that particular character.
How do I choose those names? I start by working out their year of birth and I then look up popular baby names around that time. (A woman born in 1920, for example, isn’t going to be christened Chardonnay.) I can spend hours looking up the meaning of names. I’m one of those sad people who pauses the TV when film credits are rolling to see if a suitable name catches my attention.
So, after a while, I have my character’s first name. The work starts all over again then as I try to settle on the surname and, again, it has to be exactly right. I know where my character was born so I look up surnames familiar to that area of the country. I find one I like - and then realise that it sounds ridiculous with the surname. I have software that generates random names, about 5,000 of the things, and none are ‘right’. Eventually, after a great deal of blood, sweat, tears and gnashing of teeth, I have my characters' names.
That should be that, right? Sadly not. The nightmare continues. In my ‘Jill & Max’ series of crime novels, for example, I had Jill and Jack. Jill Kennedy is a lead character in the series so I obviously couldn’t change her name and I also had a curmudgeonly old man called Jack - and he could be called nothing but Jack. Jack was his name and nothing would make me change it. I spent days writing out a scene they shared so that I didn’t have something like Jack and Jill went up the hill.
The book I’m working on at the moment will soon be off to my editor. I’m doing a final edit before I send it. What do I find? Well, after all the time spent finding the perfect names, I have the most ridiculous names ever. Truly. I’ve been working on the book for months and I’ve only just realised that I have characters with the surnames Hiller, Miller and Mellor. Jeez! What was I thinking? They will be changed, of course, but it means I’ve now got to spend hours - maybe days - coming up with perfect ‘alternative’ names for some characters.
I think I need chocolate. And wine. Lots of wine...