October 30, 2013
My hubby and I took a long time deciding the names of our sons. Since his name was often lengthened to end in “y” (like Tom becomes Tommy) and even now he’s in his 50s his sister refers to him by that diminutive, DH was adamant, we would never name either of them with a name that could be made “cute” like that. He wanted our eldest to be called Steven. Except I’d been bullied by a Steven when I was in grade school, so I wasn’t having any part of that. Finally we settled upon their names, only to discover once our eldest grew up that his co-workers call him by a shorter version of his name, and one I don’t like. (You can’t win.)
As an author, when I’m trying to choose a name for a character, I swear I take as long and put as much effort into deciding their names.
For me as a reader, just like when I was choosing our sons’ names, I associate character names with people I’ve met in real life—so certain fictional characters as lovable as the writer created them may have an automatic handicap in my mind because they remind me of a jerk I once dated, or a girl in high school who tormented me or a real dipwad I used to work with or…well, you get the idea. Actually I may use those names in my own books, but usually for characters I don’t like. 😉 None of my character will ever share a name with anyone in my family either because writing an erotic romance character with the same name as my sons? Ick.
I have a spreadsheet that lists the thousand top names (one for given names, and one for surnames) in the various decades according to the age of my character. You’d think I should be able to just close my eyes and point to a name, but nope. I look for very specific things, like does it sound like a name a cowboy born in 1980s Texas would have. For instance, I can’t see a cowboy hero being called Marian (with apologies to John Wayne, but he DID change his name after all.) Oh oh, have I created a challenge for myself? I also look at how the name goes with the surname. I don’t want to fall into Stan Lee’s habit of having alliterative names.
I also look at what the other characters’ names are — most readers get confused if you have too many characters whose names start with the same letter. For instance, the heroes’ mother is named Charlene, but is commonly referred to as Cissy. So readers might get confused if there were also characters named Chance or Chuck, even though they’re male, and I definitely couldn’t have one called Charley.
Then I have to look at the surnames. Which means I have to decide what the family’s ethnicity is.
And I go through this with every single character, no matter how big or small their role. Of course, sometimes names just come out of the blue. (Like one of my favorite heroes, Sam Watson from the Hauberk Protection series.) Unfortunately that doesn’t happen as often.
The hero in my upcoming release Slow Ride Home went through a variety of names. If you followed my blog you may remember he was originally called Tyler Montgomery. I’d polled my street team leaders and they’d come up with a list of their 20 favorite hero names and I chose that one because it sounded the most like a cowboy, and at the time I hadn’t seen many characters by that name. (Ha!) Then I turned in my manuscript and my editor said (I’m paraphrasing here because I’m too lazy to look up what she actually said, but the gist of it was…) “The last three books I’ve edited have hero named Tyler. Would you mind changing his name?”
Now once I’m at the stage where the book is done, that character is indelibly imprinted in my head as that name. To suddenly think of him as someone else is like renaming your baby when they’re five years old, so yes, my brain sort of exploded. Anyway, I begrudgingly (yes, I admit there was some pouting going on) changed his name to Ben. (Again after a lot of back-and-forth discussions between my beta readers and my resistant-to-change brain.) Of course, once I made the decision, I told my editor who said “you don’t have to change his name if you don’t want to. It was just a suggestion.” So I changed it back to Tyler. For about a week. At which point I met our own Cynthia d’Alba at the Romantic Times Conference in Kansas City. We sat down and chatted and I talked about my upcoming trilogy and the Montgomery family and discovered she had a book/series with a Montgomery family all her own. Now our books aren’t published with the same publisher, but to have two series out, with the books coming out at basically the same time, and with the same family name, might confuse readers. So I went back and put in a call to two of my beta readers and asked if they had any suggestions for new last names. We decided upon Grady because a) it’s easy to say, b) it’s short, so it’ll fit on swag easily, and c) it fit in with the family history I’d created for them, and best of all, d) I liked the sound of it. Since it’s my story, that one held the most sway. 😉
But then I went back and discovered another author had a well-known, beloved character named Ty Grady. I know, I didn’t have to change my guy’s name, but I’m a little possessive, and I wanted him to have his own name. So I decided to switch the hero’s first name back to Ben. And I must admit I’ve grown to like him with his new name.
What about you? Are there any names in books that have made you instantly dislike a character everyone likes? Any names you love and haven’t seen used for a hero?