It’s been fascinating reading and chatting with people about how they come up with names for their characters, and even more interesting going through a few exercises myself. Some people have said “don’t overthink it, just come up with a name and stick to it, it doesn’t mean anything” and then on the other end of the spectrum, others have said that “it is like naming a child, it is ever so important, you can’t go back on it, and you don’t want to get it wrong!”
I have never been very good at naming anything and I do think that names are really important, not so much in their meaning, but in how they work for people and what we associate with each name. I am very aware that each us has very different experiences of people and so a name that is pure, sweet and angelic for me might just be what nightmares are made of for you. However we all LOVE names like Cruella de Vil, because apart from the obvious, they REALLY have the same association for most people. You don’t have to think too hard about the kinds of people that Rose and Vixen are either!
But as I am writing a non-fiction book, and most of my characters are very real people who will most likely not wish to be named, I want their book names to reflect my experiences of them, and to somehow belong to them and make as much sense to my readers as their real names do to me. Maybe I am asking too much? But most of the names amazingly just fell into place and felt very natural, and I am super happy with how they came about, what they allude to, and what connections they have with the other characters. So I want that to be the same for all of them! But I am totally stuck on one of them, and it is one of the major characters. And so after going around in circles and not hitting onto a name that I believed was hanging just out of my reach and would no doubt be ever so obvious once I grasped it, I decided to ask a trusted group of friends to remind me of what it would be!
This was going to be the most simple task and they would all come back with pretty much the same answer right? I wrote to each person individually so that no one would have their train of thought hampered by anyone els’s, I gave them a VERY clear description of the character (and in fact an over the top description so that I was sure they got it!), and I didn’t even think twice that they would all know exactly what to call her! This was their brief … yes, WAAAAY over the top, but I wanted to be very very clear, and anyway, I could always tone it down later if necessary:
- She has been referred to by others as a snake Cobra and a witch
- Her name has 2 syllables so that needs to remain the same
- All names that we have come up with end in the sound “eeee” (either an “ie” or a “y” and that is too soft for her, and does not suit her AT ALL.
- Sharp sounding ending is better if possible.
- Cruella de Vil suits her down to the ground but that would be just ridiculous!
- She is very boney and sharp featured
- She eats children … (OK, she doesn’t ACTUALLY eat children but she may as well eat them!)
- She has straight dark hair with blue eyes
- She was often considered attractive in her day but she eats her prey for breakfast
And then I sat back and waited for the replies…
Six people came up with between three and ten names each, and so there are over thirty names on the list that match this description, but not one of them came up with the same name as another! Two names are out because I have already used them for other people, (not people as mean as this character, but I had picked and used them for different reasons), a dozen of them I associate with really sweet kind people, another dozen were great but sadly don’t suit the exact person, and a small handful were perfect … until I checked the names out and found them to have been already used in modern film or TV shows and so for many, they are VERY loved characters! It left me with one which is perfect … but it breaks too many of these rules on what not to do… I know, there are exceptions to every rule, but if it breaks three or four of them, then maybe I need to think of something else?
Ugh! This is waaaay harder than I thought it would be!
Oh, and suggestions would be MOST welcome!!!