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Thursday, 8 November 2012

What’s in a Name?

How important is the name you give your characters? And how much thinking goes into names that do not confuse the reader?
Why am I asking this? Well, over the past few weeks I’ve lacked a certain mobility which means I’ve had time to read over my work in progress from the beginning and do a bit of editing. That was when it struck me! I’ve given my new detective inspector the name, Kate Rawlings. So what’s the matter with that? Well, one of my other characters is Detective Sergeant Sue Rogers and, although she is not the main character, she often pairs up Detective Sergeant Bill Murphy, who is my main character.
So, Rawlings and Rogers, the names are too similar to avoid confusion in a reader’s mind. What to do? What to do?
Well, I can’t rename DS Sue Rogers, because she’s featured in both Night Watcher, and Dead Wood. So that leaves me no choice but to rename DI Kate Rawlings. And she’s not the easiest person to deal with.
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No problems, I hear you say, just get on with it and rename her. However, it’s not as simple as that, because characters get attached to their names, and there’s going to be a pretty big tantrum when I break it to Kate, that her name needs to be changed.
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Characters, you see, often make their own decisions about names. When I was writing Dead Wood, my detective constable was called Joanne. Now I like Joanne as a name, Jo for short, but Joanne apparently didn’t take to the name at all, and I found that halfway through the book she’d miraculously turned into Louise. It was decision time. Would I do a find and replace on Louise to turn her back into Joanne, or should I do the reverse. After much thinking I came to the decision that if Joanne wanted to be called Louise, then Louise it should be.
So I’m now back to decision time and building up the courage to tell Kate she can’t be called Rawlings. But then there’s the other problem! What the heck should I call her instead, and will she make the decision for me, or is it back to the Name Dictionaries to find a suitable one? Oh, and what if she doesn’t like the new name I choose? Decisions! Decisions!
How do you name your characters? And are your characters as bolshie as mine? I’d love to know.

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Melanie said...

Naming characters is sometimes harder than writing the book. I've tried renaming some of my characters and it didn't go down well.

I don't know Kate that well so I don't know if she's married, divorced or whatever but if its the latter then Rawlings could be her married name and now that's single again she prefers to go by her maiden name which could be something different... nah... would require an explanation everytime someone calls her by the wrong surname.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

I sympathise greatly, Chris, and I think I'd just leave Kate's name as it is! I can't write a story or novel without being happy with the characters' names first - and they do have a way of becoming fixed.

AliB said...

sometimes getting the name right is crucial in getting the story to work. My love story novel felt quite different (better I hope!) when I renamed my hero and became much easier to write. I too have changed names and changed them back again because it stopped working. People ask me where i get names in the first place, but I dont know. they either come to me or they don't!
Ali B

Chris Longmuir said...

Thanks for your input folks. I don't know about you, but getting the name right can make all the difference.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chris,
My characters talk back to me all the time. They always have opinions about what to say and what they would or wouldn't think. :)

myraduffy said...

Chris, You have my sympathy too! It's not easy to rename characters and often they choose their own names anyway. If you do rename,sometimes there is a subtle shift in behaviour which can affect the plot -and not always for the better.