WHAT’S IN A NAME?
What’s in a name? A lot. Maybe a rose would smell good no matter what it was called, but a badly chosen name simply . . . well . . . stinks.
Consider these problems: Will you take your new mate’s name or not? And what’ll you call the baby when you don’t like the names of any of your relatives. Then there’s the puppy. And the cat. You want every one of them to be known by a word that either pleases the grands, sounds good, or is easy to pronounce. Maybe all three. That’s reasonable, even logical, but for a writer, the ante goes up.
In a novel, a whole cast of characters needs names, and each one should be pleasing to the eye—after all it’ll be read more than pronounced—plus it should start with different first letter, indicate something about the character’s personality, ethnicity, social standing and/or education, and age.
A tall order that authors agonize over as they search telephone books, church and club rosters, and baby names lists from around the world. All of these sources have provided me with a slew of suggestions, but I’ve found the most effective character names come from personal encounters.
In my current WIP, for example, I needed an identity for a person of interest in a murder case. One morning while I was awaiting my doctor’s appointment, the nurse came out and in a loud, clear voice said, “Mr. Hawkins!” Straight out of
Treasure Island and with its reference to a predatory bird, perfect for my character Stew (Stewart) Hawkins, who’s constantly embroiled in trouble.
The femme fatale in the book is Marilyn, for sheer connotation alone. Marilyn is married, unhappily, to a dignified gentleman who is discreet and cultivated, overly so. That’s Jeffrey (for elegance) and Stahlman (again, for connotation).
I have a Francesco Grandese in Killer Kitchens. As his name hints, he’s colorful, irreverent and grandiose. His wife is Julietta. Nickname, Jewels. Imagine if Francesco were Joe Smith and Jewels were Abigail. The chance to have their names help with characterization would have been tossed away. Point being, names matter as much in fiction as well as in life.
Designed for Death, the first in the Murders by Design Mystery Series, includes the names of every member of my family—Amy, Bob, Carolyn, Chris, Jack, Laura and Lee. Now that was really fun. Best of all, not one of them is a mugger, a hit man, a burglar, or a killer. But one is a hurricane.
The third in Jean Harrington’s Murders by Design Series, Killer Kitchens, was recently released. Number four, Rooms to Die For, is due out in January 2014.