Character names are important for me, both as a writer and a reader. As a reader, when I crack open a potboiler called Wretched Murder, My Sweet Tender Darling, I expect the detective to be named “Jock Fist,” the murdered octagenarian millionaire to be “Reginald Goldknickers,” his mildly-wholesome daughter to be called “Kitty” and her gold-digger twenty-something femme fatale ex-lounge-singer stepmother “Viper Nutcracker-Goldknickers” to have a secret lover named “Cracky Sims.” In fact, I feel slightly cheated otherwise.
Fantasy is where things get complicated. I could go on for hours about how much I love the reported fact that Tolkien started writing fiction for the sole purpose of having people to speak his made-up languages. I could also relate Old English scholar Michael D.C. Drout’s hilarious comments on the various national origins suggested by the place names in the Sword of Shannara series, but there’s bigger fish to fry; I have dangerous gangsters to invent and space aliens to take pot-shots at.
If there’s one thing that will slow me up during a writing spree, it’s not having a name to hang on a character. Yes, it has to be the right name. But it’s far more important that I have a name, whether or not it’s the right one.
The big problem is that if I just grab names out of my mind, every action hero will be named “Jack,” “Jake,” “Mike,” or “Mack,” just like half the action heroes out there. The women will have even weirder names, because female names tend to be less conservative to begin with, at least in the U.S. Therefore, if I don’t take some action to prevent the kind of catastrophic decay of my mental faculties that often happens to me when writing fiction, my female characters will end up named things like “Perssandra” or “Kerstephanie,” or “Miffin” or things that don’t even make any sense. (more…)Read More...