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How to choose characters names in fiction - tips and pitfalls

Pauline RowsonWhat's in a name? An awful lot as far as an author is concerned. Getting the right name for the characters in my crime novels can be a tricky business. Sometimes they can come to me completely out of the blue, other times I will struggle to find the name that best suits that particular character and until I do the personality refuses to come alive. The name also needs to fit with the age and nationality of that character although you can have exceptions.

Until I find the right character name the personality doesn't come alive.

When seeking inspiration for first names I have several methods.I turn to my little book of babies names; I look up websites of babies names; I also keep an ear out for any unusual or interesting names when meeting people and will jot these down, and I scour graveyards for both interesting first names and surnames.

One danger can be over-using a certain name, both first names and surnames for different characters in different novels.

It is difficult to keep track of the names of all the characters you create, especially if like me you have written several books (23). I started off keeping a database but that didn't work, then I kept lists and that soon became defunct. I rely on my memory which is not very reliable so there could very well be duplicates. I conduct a run through of my past novels and do a 'find' on the computer programme to double check, even then I can miss them.

When it comes to first names for some reason I seem to have a penchant for the name Eric, and when I did a search through previous novels found that I’d used it before for different characters, albeit minor ones. So no more Erics.

Choosing surnames

As to surnames, aside from walking around graveyards, I let my finger do the choosing and tend to pick these out of an atlas or street map. Then I see if it fits with the first name and the character.

Readers also tell me that some novelists have too many characters’ surnames all beginning with the same letter and they find this very confusing. Now I scrutinise my work to check that not everyone has a surname beginning with the letter ‘C’. Not sure why I gravitate towards ‘C’ but I do.

Some readers also report that if the name is too difficult to pronounce then they have difficulty getting to grips with the character and therefore engaging in and enjoying the novel. And too many difficult to pronounce names in one novel can completely put them off. That's the last thing an author needs. But I guess it depends on what type of novel you are writing, and its setting.

How did you come up with the names of your main characters?

Dead Passage an Inspector Andy Horton MysteryI'm often asked where the name of my main characters in my crime novels originate, the hunky Inspector Andy Horton who currently appears in fifteen crime novels, the troubled undercover investigator Art Mavik in four novels, and Inspector Ryga in my 1950s set mysteries.

I've no idea where Andy Horton's name sprang from. It just seemed to pop into my head while with Art Marvik I played around with various combinations until I got something that sounded slightly foreign (he's half Finnish) modern, edgy and tough.

Inspector Ryga mysteries by Pauline RowsonWith Inspector Ryga he started off as Inspector Rees as he has a welsh background but had left Wales when he was 15 to join the merchant navy like his father. Ryga is actually Latvia’s capital on the Baltic Sea but that had no influence on me choosing the name. It wasn’t until I had got well into Eva Paisley’s character – she is the war photographer who Ryga teams up with to solve crimes – that from her lips ‘Rees’ didn’t sound right. She is forthright and confident and rarely calls him by his first name. I tried Regan but that kept making me think of the TV programme The Sweeney with Regan in it (John Thaw) and my character was the opposite to his so I played around with it, dropped the ‘n’ got Rega then changed the ‘e’ to ‘y’ and got Ryga (sounds like ‘Tiger’) and that sounded good coming from Eva - sharp, edgy. I liked it and it stuck.

It can take me quite a while to come up with the right name but it's time well spent.

The name has to fit. If it's not right then the character isn't right and that means the writing doesn't flow because it is the character's actions, mannerisms, reactions and personality that drives the plot.

What would a 'Pamela' and a 'Riley' look like to you? Would a Rufus behave, speak and act differently from a Wayne? Or a Sheila from a Sophie? I'll leave you to decide. Have fun!

All my crime novels are available to buy in paperback, ebook, Amazon Kindle and for loan in public libraries.

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APRIL 16TH, 2021 @ 6:26:28 BST

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