Jon Gibbs (jongibbs) wrote,
Jon Gibbs

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What’s in a name?

One of my favorite things about writing is making up names for characters.

Fun as that is, I think it’s important to choose those names with care. Aside from the basics, like avoiding reader confusion by not having Tommy, Timmy and Tammy in the same story, a name produces an image in the reader’s head (at least it does in mine).  

My old gran used to say, “You only get one chance to make a first impression, so don’t bugger it up, you pillock!” If we apply that sage advice to our characters, then I’d say we should begin with the name. After all, it’s often the first thing our readers will know about them.

Giving a name like ‘Britney’ to an m/c creates a different first impression than if we called her Anya, or Agnes. From the name alone, our brain fills in details about age, appearance and attitude. 

If we’re reading a story in which the m/c learns he’s about to receive a visit from a someone named Cecil Winthrope III, chances are we’d have a different expectation than if that stranger was called Ed Hunter (who may possibly be about to offer the m/c a job in a rival story… ahem, sorry).

Of course, I realize we need to provide a lot more information about our characters than just their moniker. Nevertheless, I think it’s good to have an idea of what image the name alone creates in our readers’ minds - not least because we can use that expectation to our advantage by turning it on its head. 

In my MG novel, Fur-Face, I have a cat named Snowy; a fox named Razor; and a gorilla named Mr. Tinkles. From the names alone you’ve probably got an idea about their appearance and character (though I’m pretty sure you’d be wrong about Snowy).

Here are some names from my current WIP Waking up Jack Thunder:

Bobby Newton
Winzig (means ‘tiny’ in German)
Jonas Van Der Staal

One of them is a hulking brute of a sadistic killer; one is a mysterious international drug lord; one is a shy scientist, and one a CIA agent

 With just the above information, I’m sure you could correctly pin the job to the name, as it were.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to tell anyone what to call their characters. I’m just saying that first impressions very often start with a name, so it’s a good idea to choose them with care.

How about you?

What character names did you choose for your current WIP, and why?  


Tags: fiction, writing

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