The Name Game – or, what (not) to call your characters…

DSC01383We’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!

800px-Hillhead_High_SchoolThe 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.

IMG_0429That 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.






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10 Responses to The Name Game – or, what (not) to call your characters…

  1. Really interesting post Linda – and good new system. Funny how the same names keep shouting to be heard!


  2. jenanita01 says:

    Good plan, writing them down helps you to remember them all, too.


  3. Georgia Rose says:

    Great idea having that list Linda, I think I shall start one. At least with my first 3 books the main names all stay the same so there have only been a couple of new ones I’m had to come up with but I’m already struggling with my main characters name for no. 4 – I think it’s changed 3 times already because of similarities.


  4. Jools says:

    I had a similar problem, names that sounded to cliched, or too similar to other names. Trouble is, when you’ve lived for 4 years with Siobhan and Mary, it’s tough to rechristen them Adele and Lilly! Great post and I’m sure many will relate to this.


  5. A name list of previous works. What a great idea. I’ll have to do this. Names can be bothersome things. In one of my manuscripts (fortunately, an earliy version), I even changed the name of one of the characters half-way through. I did it on purpose, but then wasn’t careful enough and so the young man was both Roberto and Nicholas. Well, fortunately, my true-and-tried beta readers noticed it!


    • lindahuber says:

      I think names are bothersome because to us they are attached to the characters of our ‘paper people’, and that’s why we might not notice similar ones – or even identical ones! In real life it’s quite all right to have three friends with the same name – but this can’t happen in a book!


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