We’ve talked before about the problems people face finding the right name for their children and animals. But for writers, name-finding problems don’t stop there; they carry straight on into the tricky task of finding good names for our characters.
With the first book it’s easy – you can choose names you like that fit the people involved. It’s more tactful, of course, to avoid giving your psychopath the same name as your elderly maiden aunt (unless she would enjoy that), but all in all I found the first few names easy to come by.
Then the rot set in. Just before sending The Cold Cold Sea to my publisher, I realised I’d given one of my less pleasant characters the same name as a relative. I hadn’t noticed before because my relative always went by a nickname, but still… I thought I’d better change it. Jennifer sprang to mind and off she went to be in my book, which was published before it dawned that I now had Jenny in one book and Jennifer in the next. Won’t do that again, I thought. Ha!
The Attic Room had been edited and was about to be formatted when I saw I had a Colin there… as well as a Colin in The Cold Cold Sea. Those multiple names in my old school class must have warped my judgement – my two Colins were different people so again, I hadn’t noticed the duplication. Just in time, I thought, changing The Attic Room’s Colin to Paul and sending it off. But wait – there was a Paul in one of the books I have almost finished. Heck. Change him to Owen. Good. Sorted.
Except – there was a child called Soraya in my first work-in-progress, and another called Salome in my second. Hm. Maybe Salome would be better as Megan. Right.
I really thought I was fine, then. Until my second work-in-progress came back from its first edit on Tuesday, and my editor gently pointed out that my characters included Megan, Mim, Martha, Mhairi and Marianne. And Nora and Netta. She was too polite to mention Jack and Jim, and Roger and Rita and Ralph, but they were there too.
That was when the penny dropped that name-finding may never be my thing. So, to avoid having to spend another morning changing 85% of the names in a book, I’ve started a new system – a name-sheet, with ladies on the left and gents on the right, in alphabetical order. Those already published and unchangeable are in black. Wip/1 is blue, wip/2 is green. All further new character names will be checked against the list and dropped if there’s even a hint of similarity to anyone else. I’m allowing myself Frankie and Frank there. (No, I didn’t notice till I made the list.) Poor Salome/Megan/Frankie is on her third name now and she’s only eleven.
The good thing about all this is, next round of edits, wip/2 is going to feel really fresh. Like a whole new book. And by the time I get to book 26, my characters will be Xavier, Yolanda and Zebedee…
And oh dear, there’s just a hint of yellow on some of those leaves now.