At a New York Times Talk in 2009, a question from the audience for Stephen King: “How do you name characters, particularly…” and he named a specific character. The question was asked by a man of the same name. The audience laughed. Unfortunately, I don’t remember Stephen King’s answer.
Depending on the character, I have a different answer. A novel has many characters. Some will appear briefly. Some will be present throughout the series. It’s a lot of people to name.
One of my lead characters, Genevieve Lillian Brannon, has a long answer regarding her naming. I’ve always loved the name Genevieve, the name of a great aunt I knew briefly. It’s a beautiful name, yet I only knew her as Aunt DeDe. Her granddaughter was named Genevieve as well, but again, no one calls her by it. Ironically, no one calls my Genevieve, Genevieve either. Her middle name, Lillian, came from a co-worker. It was her first name, but she went by her middle name. Lillian never suited her. Lillian and Lily suit my character perfectly.
The other lead character, Nathan Michael Miccoli, has a less complicated naming process. He was originally named Jonathan. Another writer in my first writing class had a character named Jonathan, so I dropped the ‘Jo’ and Nathan was born. Looking back, it was a good choice. I can’t picture ‘Nathan’ as Jonathan at all.
Some of the more baseball oriented minds may notice a trend in my character’s names. Rosters of my favorite team are often consulted for first and last names. A secondary character, from book two, is named after a Mets player, who also played for the Yankees. It is a clue regarding this character’s two sided nature.
Sometimes I use census data to find the right first or last name. Google is a wonderful thing- ‘What is a common name for a specific age or ethnic group?’
While writing book three of ‘The Nathan Miccoli Series’, I got particularly stuck and I gave the ‘privilege’ of naming a character to three special beta readers. They each took very different approaches. One took a week to answer, wanting to know details about the character. (She eventually came up with a name that I should have known she would.) The second gave me an answer in less than thirty seconds. (It was a great choice.) The third told me she didn’t want the responsibility. With some pushing, she conceded, by naming the young character David. (Yes, after David Wright, Mets Captain.) Her response was vetoed because a future important character is already named David and he is worthy of the All Star’s name.
To sum up, How do I name a character?
Depends on the character.
A R Kennedy lives in Long Beach, NY, with her miniature schnauzer, H. Her debut mystery, ‘Gone…But Not Missed’, was released in November 2013. The sequel, ‘Not Forgotten’, is expected to be released in the Spring on 2014.
‘Gone…But Not Missed’ is a mystery set in Long Beach, NY. Lillian Brannon wakes up on Valentine’s Day in an exact replica of her bedroom but the only item that she believes is authentic is her dog, Laude. She is held captive in her kidnapper’s basement apartment, summoned upstairs once a week for a chaste dinner. But will his kindness last, and more importantly, why isn’t anyone looking for her? Lillian’s story is interwoven with that of Nathan, a NYPD officer, who is intrigued by Lillian’s disappearance- how can a young woman be gone for two weeks before a Missing Person Report is filed? Local police believe Lillian has voluntarily abandoned a life she didn’t like. Lillian’s best friend convinces Nathan the authorities are wrong. With no jurisdiction, no resources, and no witnesses, he is compelled by the pictures of Lillian with her sweet smile and sparkling green eyes to obsessively take up the case. Armed with Lillian’s keys and personal information, he spends hours, then days in her home trying to find clues that will lead him to her.
How long would you be gone before someone took action?