What’s in a name asks our Fiction Editor, Shirley in this week’s Writer’s Tools!
Mildred. Tanya. Gertrude. Kylie. Janet. Emma. Patience. Priti. Jasmine.
Greg. Edward. Alfred. Kai. Jack. Norman. Nigel. Sadiq. Jeremy.
For each of these names I bet you got an instant snapshot image in your head.
That’s what your characters’ names can do for the reader, so you can see how crucial it is that you get it right. Get it wrong and it’ll translate into the wrong snapshot and give her the wrong impression of the characters you want to portray.
It seems obvious, I know, but it does still happen that a writer will send a story about, say, Janet and Geoffrey – and they turn out to be teens or twenty-somethings – and it just doesn’t feel right, does it?
I think it probably happens when the writer hasn’t perhaps had a clear idea of who their characters are. And if they don’t, what chance does the reader?
I’ll talk more about characters in a later post, but for now let’s talk about just names.
You want to choose names that are age appropriate – and period appropriate, too, don’t forget.
But once you’ve assembled your cast and given them names that you think perfectly capture their age, personality and era, look at that cast list as whole. Go on – write them down.
Sometimes it’s only when they’re written down that you notice that they all begin with T: Tanya, Tony, Thomas and Tilly. Or all end in Y – Tony, Cindy, Shirley and Billy. Or all rhyme; Tilly, Billy and Shirley. Or Sue and Susie. Seriously, it happens. So scan your list for trends.
And even reading in your head, you want to know how to pronounce a name, don’t you? Otherwise you stumble every time you meet it in the text and that spoils your enjoyment. So think twice about names that readers might not know how to pronounce. I remember being in a local supermarket and a mum was shouting for “Gooey – Gooey, come back here!” Turns out the wee boy was called Guy….