What's in a Name? by Shannon Work
Character names are very important to me. They have to feel just right for a particular character—they either work, or they don’t. Sometimes character names come easy—while I’m outlining the story. Other times, I struggle to find the name that fits just right. And I try to make sure none of the character names are too similar in the same book. I want it easy for the reader to remember who is who!
I’ve always believed that character names should be as well thought out as book titles. They should reflect something of the character’s personality. Many of the most famous literary characters have memorable names. Who could imagine a character by any other name than Harry Potter, James Bond, Hercule Poirot, or Jay Gatsby? It’s obvious the authors put a lot of thought into naming their main character.
There are numerous resources authors can use to help create character names. There are even name generator websites that some authors use, although I haven’t. Resources I have used include lists of popular baby names for the years my characters were born. I have also googled lists of cultural surnames and searched through burial lists from local cemeteries.
A particular fun resource I have used to create character names in each of my novels is the book Agatha Christie A to Z, which lists the names of every character (major and minor) that Agatha Christie used in her novels and short stories. Agatha Christie is a literary hero of mine, and each of my books includes variations of names taken from this book.
I hope that, now, with some insight into the work that authors often put into naming characters, you will think about them while you’re reading. Does the name provide insight into the character’s personality? Does it work for you? Or does it sound like the author merely plucked it from a telephone book? But I hope you will never again take for granted what’s in a name.
Shannon Work grew up in Del Rio, a border town in the dusty wilds of West Texas. When she graduated from high school, she moved east to College Station and graduated from Texas A&M University with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and a master’s degree in Land Economics and Real Estate.
Most of her working life has been spent developing real estate, earning a national Best in America Living Award for one of her developments. After two failed starts at writing a novel while raising three kids and working, she retired to pursue her dream of writing mystery novels full time.
Shannon and her husband are recent empty nesters and split their time between Houston, Texas and Telluride, Colorado. Always with their laptops and dogs in tow.
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