13 June 2016

The Naming of Characters

The naming of characters is a difficult matter. Okay. I stole that from T.S. Eliot’s Poem, “The Naming of Cats,” from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. The original line is: “The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter.”

I agree on both points. The naming of cats is a difficult matter, but so is the naming of characters.

Why is it so difficult to name my characters? Because once they are named, they become real. Their names give them an identity, so I don’t take the naming of characters lightly.

Here is how I go about the matter of naming characters.

First, when choosing a name, especially for a major character, I always choose a name that I like. By my experience, it takes two to three years to write a novel. That is two or three years I have to live with the characters—and their names. So it just makes sense for me to like the name I have to type over and over and over. Examples of this are Ginny Dalton, Scott James, Bridget Landry, and Philip Beaumont. The names sound nice to my ears, yet they are everyday names. They are believable and don’t sound contrived.

Once I decide on a first and last name, I usually do a Google search. First, I search to be sure there isn’t a really famous person with the same name. Second, I search to see if there is someone out there with the same name. If there is, and there usually is, I know that it is a believable name.

When choosing first names, I usually just choose one that I like. There is a lot of thought behind the first names I choose. That is mainly because I have to like the sound of it, but it is also because the name has to fit the character. It is strange how a character slowly develops and takes on his or her name. A great example of this is Bridget Landry. She was a minor character in A Future Spring. Then she developed into a major character in Vocation. Through the process she grew into her graceful name. It is really an interesting process.

Here are some of my characters and where their surnames came from:

Ginny Dalton—Dalton came from British actor, Timothy Dalton. I remember the painful process of choosing Ginny’s last name. It took a long, long time for me to find her last name. I searched and searched, and nothing seemed quite right. I never settle on a name that doesn’t seem right, so Ginny was without a last name for a long time. Then I stumbled upon Dalton, and I knew I had found Ginny’s name.

Scott James—James came from novelist, Henry James. I wanted something short and to the point for Scott, since he is a no-nonsense police detective. Scott James was the quickest name I have ever chosen for a character. It was right from the very beginning. In fact, his name came before I even had a story.

Bridget Landry—I liked the name Bridget and decided I would use it somewhere. Bridget was intended to be a minor character, but she was so complex, even in her two scenes in A Future Spring, that I knew she had to tell her own story. That story became Vocation. Landry came from a list of priests in my local diocese. Putting the two names together created a graceful name, and I immediately liked it.

Philip Beaumont—Beaumont came from actor Hugh Beaumont, Ward Cleaver on Leave it to Beaver. It is a beautiful name, and who doesn’t like Hugh Beaumont? The use of Beaumont began in AFS with Philip’s brother, Mark.

So that is a glimpse into how I choose some of the names for my characters.

However, there is one character for whom I have broken all the rules. He is the hero of Vocation, and as the hero, I simply could not choose a name for him. He would not allow it. He chose his own name. He, in many ways, existed before I put him on the pages of my novel. He existed before Bridget existed. You will have to read Vocation to find out what his name is and why it (and he) are so special.

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