Saturday, October 12, 2013

Varma, Monkberry, and Antanov

Every time I begin a new book, the name search is part of the setup. I know some writers who believe character names aren't all that important, but I think they can provide a shortcut for the reader and the writer.

Whether we want to admit it, or not, all of us form impressions based on names. John Smith doesn't have the same connotation as Danny Ling or Alistair Monkberry. Elizabeth and Margaret bring different pictures to mind than Muffy and Barbie. There is a reason why such names as Wolf and Nick are so popular in the romance field some publishers have banned them. As writers, we can use this character shorthand--or write against 'type'.

Writing against type carries a certain risk if the reader has a heavy bias against such a name. I once met a woman who categorically refused to read any book with a female character named Babs. She said it reminded her of boobs. I can sort of see her point.

But, imagine what a writer could accomplish with a really smart, kick-ass character named Buffy. Oops. That one's been taken. And there's another point. Some characters are so memorable their names end up out of circulation for a good long while.

Rourke. Buffy. Arthur. Xena. After a time, folks forget who they were and the names can be recycled. Many romance readers would recognize Rourke as the hero from J.D. Robb's 'in Death' series. But my first encounter with the name was almost forty years ago with another fabulous Rourke in Shanna by Kathleen Woodiwiss.

Names can indicate social status, ethnicity, gender, and regional origin. One or two words can provide an indelible portrait before the writer ever adds description or dialogue. A name made popular through literature or popular culture can even indicate approximate age of the character. Imagine all the Harrys and Hermoines out there.

I believe a name--especially names of peripheral characters--can serve to illuminate those characters with a minimum of additional description. But then...that's just my opinion.



  1. I have a philosophy - strong simple names for the protagonists - and I want the meaning of the name to be significant - some significance for the story. The antagonists name should also be simple and perhaps vague - as in he/she could go either way.

    1. Julia, I try very hard to choose names that enhance the characters and story. That's an interesting point about the antagonists.

  2. What I like about the names you choose is that you don't follow trend - there doesn't have to be a meaning to a name - more a quirky name with a strong belief behind it and that builds the character in a reader's mind.

  3. Names can definitely have an effect on the way a reader perceives your character. I try to get the reader "into" the plot before I reveal the names, just in case there is any kind of bias.