I’ve written so much at this point that I can’t be counted on to come up with names for a story all on my own. If I picked the first name that came into my head each time, every character would be named “Ben Tyler” or “Jake Davis” or “Jessica Miller” or something.
To pick my character names, I need piles of baby name books; I need Google Translate; I need actuarial tables.
All of this may be to my detriment. Making up names is easier than writing, so maybe this is just my way of procrastinating, like blogging or resorting all my paperbacks by the second letter of the title. And it certainly can take as much time as I let it — often more. For me, character naming can take on a life of its own.
The result of all this procrastination is that I’ve been told that I have a facility for coming up with colorful names. To be sure, my exceptionally bizarre character names like Irma Precht, Spunky DeShanski and Douglas “Woppo” Chamberlain come to mind when I choose to pat myself on the back for my writing talents — but just as many readers find my more esoteric character names annoying. I’ve been told things like, “I just couldn’t pay attention to the story because I was wondering why anyone would name their kid Arwycke.”
But coming up with completely bizarre character names is one of the few pleasures left to me in my old age, so at this point I can’t stop any more than I could stop breathing.
Still, it’s far from natural. When a story’s really pumping along, the last thing I want to do is stop and come up with a character name — or even the name of a company, hotel, or small town. That’s why my early works were laced with characters named things like “Jake Martin” and “Susan Green,” and occurred either in nameless big cities with streets called “Center Street,” “West Street” and “South Street,” or in towns called things like “Walkerton” and “Smithville.”
It’s only after I got to be more of a seasoned writer, and discovered baby name books, Excel and the data banks of the U.S. Census that I started really going ape shit when it comes to character names.
Many writers believe that the character and place names shouldn’t distract from the story. I basically agree, but for me, in some ways character and place names ARE the story. I love life at least partially because of its randomness. At least once a week in my reading, I encounter someone’s name that makes me go, “WTF? A Persian guy named McMurphy?” or something of the sort. Every time you learn someone’s name, you learn something about them. Names are evocative and illusory. They tell a story in and of themselves.
But many writers feel that the story names tell should be a non-story so that the story-story can stand out more strongly. To them, calling a character “Horse Badorties” would be ludicrous. A character named “Kilgore Trout” would be merely distracting.
I can’t say I disagree with them — and bizarre character names are more effective in satiric or humorous works, certainly. But I find those same writers who oppose unusual character naming conventions on the grounds that such names call attention to themselves aren’t always standing on the most solid of ground. They’re often the ones whose characters are named “Veronica Traynor,” “Bowden Blackheath,” and “Treat Scarborough.”
Seriously — this is supposed to be an erotica and romance writer’s blog, so I can’t let this one drop. Having had, for most of my reading life, little interest in romance novels — but respecting them wholeheartedly as an art form — I recognize that characters named things like “Devlin Raffterty” are expected in the genre as surely as characters named things like “Jack McCarthy” are expected in the international-thriller genre, and crime novels feature characters named things like “Burke.”
I would never expect a romance novel not to have main characters with names that stir my quest for adventure and, of course, love. But too often the names of romance novel characters go way overboard, without the satiric intent that drives a name like Kilgore Trout. I don’t know if it’s just my perception, but it seems like the names of romance novel heroes and heroines — and here I include paranormal fiction — have been getting ever more bizarre and outrageous since genre fiction started its migration to ebooks.
I’m not saying don’t name your broad-chested erotic romance novel hero “Dionysus Rapture” — just be aware of what you’re doing.
To be certain, there’s no reason to agonize over names if you don’t want to. There are plenty of people named “Jim Parks” out there, so it’s plenty realistic, if your characters are American and have essentially European names (which may or may not mean they’re of European descent) to name your characters something that won’t stick out in the reader’s mind.
But, speaking for myself, if I just picked the first name that came to mind I would call everybody some variation of something like “Tess Williams,” “Brock Proctor,” or “Lou Sinclair.” They would all sound like standard-issue dime-novel characters. That’s not a bad thing, but it doesn’t inspire me.
Personally, I’d rather haul out the baby name book and pore over it for a few hours looking for just the right name.
Hell, it’s easier than actually getting down to writing — am I right or am I right?