Sharon S asked:
As a reader, I am always interested in finding out how and why authors choose the names of their characters. I’ve asked but never quite get an answer. I’m listening to Maybe This Time again. I’d forgotten Andy’s name is Andromeda. I’m guessing that is because of her strange mom? But what gives you your names? Please and Thank You.
Character names are really important, something I did not realize when I started writing. I picked names because I liked them, sort of like naming children. But on my third published book, I couldn’t get the heroine to work. No matter what I did, she was flat. So I sat and thought about her, about what she wanted, about who she was, and I realized she was a Lucy. I changed her name and there she was. I know it sounds dumb, but you ask any author and most of them will tell you that names are crucial for characterization.
Most of the time, my characters show up with their names. A few like Lucy have shown up with the wrong names, and Andie was one of those. I think I went through four different names before I hit on Andie, and then reverse engineered that to Andromeda because of her mother and because it would make North’s mother nuts (although she named her kids North and Sullivan, so she has no room to criticize).
My preference is for names that are different because they’re memorable. But different is not enough; that name also has to characterize because of stereotypes (Bertha is going to be large), associations (Alice connects to Alice in Wonderland, Tilda’s worldview was tilted), relationships (North’s character is diametrically opposed to Southie’s) and sound (Andie is a happy-go-lucky kind of name, Zelda is edgy, Agnes sounds like “anger” especially starting with that hard “Ag”). Other things I take into consideration: birthdate (different names are popular at different times), origins (tons of name lists on the internet, the last one I looked at was “Wolf Names”), what kind of people the character’s parents were (which explains how the name came to be and how they tried to shape the character as a child to fit that name), and how the name fits that character’s function in the text.
The McDaniel class does weekly chats, and last week I answered a question about names, using Bet Me as an example:
Min and Cal minimize risk and calculate the odds; they’re meant to be together. “Calvin” gives you an idea of how rigid Cal’s mother is, and Minerva gives you the set-up that Min’s mother was hoping for a goddess when her daughter was born.
Bonnie has a soft sound with that B at the beginning and the soft O that fits her softer nature. Liza has that razor sharp Z in the middle. I called the bridesmaids Wet and Worse because they weren’t on the page enough for the reader to recognize them by their real names; the nicknames also set up that Wet was the one who was always weeping for her lost boyfriend and that Worse was capable of much worse. Diana was another goddess name, plus there was the association with Princess Diana, the perfect daughter.
Cal, Roger, Tony, David. Cal’s the hero who calculates things. Roger is a dweebish name. Tony sounds like somebody who wears a baseball cap backward. And David is formal, business like.
One of the best ways I know to get a character firmly in mind before you write is to brainstorm his or her name. It’s like collage in that you’re working with associations: what does this name say to you about the character, how does it give clues to how he or she thinks, acts, talks, where he or she comes from, etc. A character named Poppy is different from a character named Rose; a character named Andromeda is different from a character named Diana; a character named Phineas is different from a character named Harry, and so on. Thinking about the name makes you think about the character in a different way.