Do you know how hard it is to name characters in a novel?
As if it wasn’t hard enough to name actual children, now I need to name characters, a whole crew of imaginary friends who live in my head. It only took me a month or two to pick out names for the main characters. I could pick out a name, roll it around in my mind, and then accept or reject it based only on my gut feelings.
Then I moved on to secondary characters, which got a little trickier. Some of you will find your names in the book simply because you have good names and it’s easier to steal what your parents gave you than to think it up myself. But have no fear; your characters mostly just mull around, propping up the main characters. No reason to sue me.
Writers are always watching. Behave yourself.
Some of you are going to find yourself in the book, under cleverly disguised names. This is the hazard of knowing a writer, and I just can’t help it. Behave yourself and everything should turn out okay, but know I’m watching… (Insert sound of 300 people unfriending me on Facebook and leaving the church and uninviting me to the family reunion.)
But then, because this book is not written for six-year-old girls, we need a sprinkling of bad guys. And this became unexpectedly gut wrenching. The character development of the bad guys became dicey enough, because I don’t want any friends or family to feel like I secretly hate them and will express my disdain through the permanent, written word.
Trust me, if I’m mad at you, you’ll know long before you read the book.
Once I’d wrestled with the actual characters, I had to come up with names. First of all I have to use names that make sense for the audience, which will mostly be made up of people named Jennifer, Jessica, Sara, and Kris, because 90% of my friends have these four names. So the characters can’t be named Slate and Ember, no matter how cool that may be. The readers would be confused and wonder why I was naming full-grown characters after babies born yesterday. Babies born to people with highly developed imaginations, I might add.
Neither can the characters be named Gertrude or Mildred, Walter or Hubert. That would cause the reader to scratch her head and wonder why I’d used nursing home residents to fill the pages.
Here. Let me prove my point:
As the sun sank further over the edge of the lake, Gertrude and Mildred waited, and waited, on the dock. Their legs hung over the edge, dangling over the water. Gertrude’s shorts were short enough that through the frayed edges of the hem she could see the tattoo she must have gotten last night. Must have been a wild night, since she couldn’t remember anything after Hubert handed her that last Solo cup at the bonfire. She vaguely remembered a ride on the motorcycle through the dark streets, hanging on to him for dear life as they tore up one hill and down the other…but none of that explained why she now had a wolf tattooed to her left thigh.
Mildred caught her staring at the artwork. “Could be worse, Gertie.” She moaned and dropped her head into her hands like she’d been doing all day, since they’d woken up in sleeping bags in Mildred’s childhood treehouse.
“Tell me how this could be worse, Mil.”
“At least you didn’t get a tramp stamp. There’s no shame in a wolf on your thigh.”
“Shut up, Mildred.” The skin under the wolf burned like she’d spent the night with a thousand fire ants. What had she done?
You see the problem, yes? If I choose to name characters the wrong thing, the whole story becomes stupid. Even stupider than that example up there.
I can’t go too old, I can’t go too modern, which leaves a nice big swath of names in the middle. Names that are already attached to people I know. So the dufus who gets hit by a car? What am I supposed to name him?
Doug? No, I went to high school with a Doug.
Matt? No, I know at least two Matts and one of them is teaching my kid.
Cain? No, already been used.
Satan? Too obvious, and already in play.
Please, help me out. No explanations are necessary, but in the comments below throw out some names you’d like to name characters. But, you know, if the explanation is interesting, we all might like to hear the story…
A good name is more desirable than great reaches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold. (Proverbs 22:1)