Naming Characters – How do you do it?


I thought I’d share my own method for choosing character names today, just for a bit of fun. 

I went on a training course recently, where I learnt visualisation, a brilliant skill which worked, (I’ll share that sometime) but not today.

Today, I’m mentioning this, because they used actors on this course and then were joking about how it’s hard picking random names for characters. I’d declared myself a writer and so they looked at me and said “You know what I mean?” and I thought, yes, I do.

It’s always quite funny trying to pick names. You might think the lead male names in my first two books, when they are published, were Twilight inspired, Edward, and then Robert. They were not Twilight inspired, honestly, the first drafts were written way before the first I heard of Twilight. Actually when I did hear of Twilight I thought, darn, she’s used my name. 

First names I find the hardest because I’ve found nowhere to look them up effectively, hence I mostly pick family names.

Jane Austen, did this too.

Nice to know I am well acquainted – laugh – if you visit Stoneleigh Abbey in the UK you can find out all about her family history but I mention it in more detail in my history blog.

I have a feeling some of my family may be a little horrified when my second book is published as I’ve borrowed a couple of their names and one of my nephews is a baddy, he doesn’t know, he might not like it, (ha ha). I’ve used my father’s name as a love interest for a secondary character, a little weird perhaps, but it’s only his name, the character I have thought of is not at all like him, sorry Dad. My grandfather is also a baddy.

Now you see how random it is using family names. Not sure how they are going to react, they haven’t a clue. Can’t wait to reveal and experience the horror.

The other thing about picking first names for historical fiction, is in reality there was this trend of reusing first names for the first-born boy and girl, and then grandparents names, etc, etc, they liked keeping names in the family, and I like being authentic, so seeing as the Marlow Intrigues I’ve been writing are a family series I’ve had to be quite imaginative to enable this. The first books started off with abbreviations of names spoken by friends and then I had to remove them as I wanted them later for children.

One of my favourite stories from history is a medieval tale about King William II, when he asked everyone to leave the dining hall who was called William, there were still about fifty people left, so the tale goes.

Anyway now I’m running out of family names, so I need another inspiration. Right time to start picking friends’ names then – watch out.

Then of course as an author of historical novels, you have to be just as picky with your surnames because the male characters are mostly known by their surnames.  (Because nearly everyone was named William – no, they weren’t, only joking, but the first name was far less important to them in those days) 

Oh, when I sent a manuscript to the Romance Novelists Association in the UK a few years ago, it came back saying, “they wouldn’t be called by their surname,” so wrong, this person had obviously never read any historical letters and documents. Men were often only known by their surnames and titles. Case in point in my recent historical blogs I’ve been writing about the romantic relationship between the Poet Shelley and Mary Godwin (who wrote Frankenstein) and later married Shelley, within this I include links to copies of her letters to him and she only ever called him Shelley, never his first name, which was Percy.

I have to say, in this respect, my own novels are not authentic, I’d rather the heroine used the hero’s given name, because that’s what we expect in the 21st Century.  

I walk this tightrope within my novels of making it an enjoyable read in a modern style of language so the story doesn’t get slowed down by working out the meaning of something, while also trying to keep the image of  the period of history, so you as the reader feel like you are in it. 

I think the reader might be questioning why if I only ever had the heroine calling the hero by his surname.

So anyway how I pick surnames – well, as I write historical novels at the moment, some are pinched from names I spot in research, some are names I note on portraits when I wonder about historical houses, and some I just select by wading through the very old fashioned phone book. Sadly there are less and less to choose from in there. The old fashioned phone book is dying out and it is such a valuable resource for writers, useful for finding odd street names and town names too. 😉Illicit_Love

My debut novel is due to be published 2nd May 2013  Sapphire Star Publishing are the publisher. If you want to find out more got to http://www.janelark.co.uk/  like me on Facebook or follow me on twitter @janelark

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One thought on “Naming Characters – How do you do it?

  1. Pingback: Discovering the names of novels « Write on the World

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