I was in Listowel last week for the Writers’ Festival and I had a very interesting discussion with my popular fiction class about characters’ names. Often new writers don’t put enough thought or effort (or any thought or effort) into choosing names for their characters. Names are so important. Think how many hours/days/weeks people spend choosing names for their children. Names say a lot about us and our background. Some families have Christian names that have been passed down through the generations, like Colm, Sean or John. Surnames are equally important and say so much about a family. My mother was a Stanford. The male Stanfords were church men and academics. My grandfather’s name was William Bedell Stanford and he was a Professor of Classics at Trinity College, Dublin. I have an aunt called Danae, my mum is Melissa and my uncle, Gully. Strong names.
Make your character’s names mean something.
In the Amy Green books I’ve named each character carefully. Amy Green is everygirl – and her name reflects this I think as it’s an open, inclusive name. Many girls, including my own daughter, Amy-Rose, are called Amy. Clover Wildgust (an old surname I found on a gravestone), Amy’s rather mad 17 year old aunt, is a BIG character, so deserved a big name. Sylvie Wildgust, Clover’s sister and Amy’s mum, can be a bit wispy and overcome by life, I thought Sylvie suited her. Art Green is Amy’s dad, a strong, but at times selfish man. Shelly Lame, Art’s second wife, is in a word, lame!
The mean girls – the D4s – are Annabelle Hamilton, Nina Pickering, Sophie Piggott. Seth Stone is Amy’s boyfriend, Bailey Otis is Mills’s singer/surfer boyfriend.
In the new adult book, The Shoestring Club, out next spring, the main character is Julia Schuster, ‘Jules’ or Julia Boolia or Boolie, a lovable mess. Her (bossy older) sister is Pandora, and she has an eccentric granny called Bird. Arietty Pilgrim is Julia’s outspoken and unusual friend, who is originally from Trinidad and now works in Dublin Zoo. Again, all carefully chosen and I hope memorable and a little different.
There are so many wonderful names out there – go on, stretch yourself! Read gravestones, telephone directories, programmes from school concerts (great for children’s names – which change over time – Sophie is v popular at the moment for 7/8/9 year olds!) – all are invaluable resources for the writer.
Yours in writing,