I started this series because of my own struggles with naming characters. I always feel that if I don’t get the character’s name right, I can’t write him or her correctly. Sometimes the names are easy. The name Josie in SECRETS OF THE LOTUS was incredibly easy. I wanted something unusual, innocent and beautiful and Josie fit the bill perfectly. More recently however named and renamed a character and couldn’t get him to behave or look the way I wanted him to until I settled on the name Liam. Liam is now the main male character in ALWAYS FAITHFUL, which, though finally completed, is still my work-in-progress.
To wind up the series I asked some of my former guests two more questions, with the promise that I would also answer them. They are basic yes or no questions, but I did ask the others to go into some detail if they wanted.
BREATHE: Could you take the name of a person you dislike and create a character you’d consider lovable?
ME: I believe this is possible. Some of the names of people I dislike are actually very beautiful names in themselves.
JOE YOUNG: I don’t think this would be a problem at all. There aren’t many names of people I dislike that I associate only with that single person, and besides, I think it would probably feel good to “rehabilitate” the name of someone I wasn’t fond of by naming a lovable character that.
AJ BROWN: Yes. That would actually be fairly easy. Even folks we don’t like or don’t get along with usually have one or more redeemable traits. The key is finding those traits and focusing on them. Someone may be a jerk as a boss, but a great father to their kids. You can find something redeeming in that, right?
MARYANNE STAHL: Yes. The character takes on a life of her own over time.
BREATHE: Could you take the name of a person you love and create a character you despise?
ME: No. I don’t think I could do that, but it might just be that I wouldn’t want to. To me, a name of someone I love is a part of them and a treasure, so I think this is a boundary I won’t cross.
JOE YOUNG: This might be a sticking point, though probably just for a moment. I’d think, Do I really want to name this nasty character the same as she/he who I love? Well, yeah, why not, she/he would probably find it amusing. In any case, I’m thinking that, for both of these questions, I’m not sure how much they would ever apply to something I’d write. I’ve never thought to myself, well that character is lovable, that one despicable. Even my rather psychotic villain in NAME, Daniel, I kind of like.
AJ BROWN: Yes. Like the first question, even our spouses have things that annoy us from time to time (even if it is only once in a while, it does happen) so, like finding the redeemable qualities in someone you dislike, I think you can harp on the things you don’t like about people you love or admire just as easily, if not easier. I think it’s easier to create a person you don’t like than to create one your readers will have sympathy for.
MARYANNE STAHL: I possibly could, but I don’t think I would.
So what did I learn from all this? I now know that other writers have systems for naming their characters. I know some names are sometimes off limits, but for the most part if a name fits a character, I should go for it. (I’m thinking about writing a novel using only first names of people I went to high school with, so look look out for that BHS!) And I’ve learned that a rose is a rose…except when it’s not.