Hi, SE Readers. Joan here today. One of my first posts for Story Empire was titled “What’s in a Name?” It was about the importance of selecting character names that matched age, ethnicity, gender, etc.
We writers are free to go outside the box so to speak, especially if you tend to be a bit of a rebel. (Hand raised.) But recently, I became aware of a couple of other problems with character names that might confuse the reader.
In my first novel, Unseen Motives, I switched several character names with as often as the weather changes in Texas.
I originally named my main character Debbie. But when I researched popular names for the year she was born, the name didn’t make the top 100 popular girl names for that period. While there was nothing wrong with the name Debbie, I decided to name the character Stephanie. I’m glad I did.
But then I had another problem. Four characters, one major and two minor all had names beginning with the letter S. Again, I did some switching—Scott became Matt, Sophie became Helen, and Sylvia became Pat.
I thought I’d learned my lesson, so by the time I began my third novel, I felt confident I wouldn’t make a similar mistake. Wrong. This time I selected the letter J. Yes, I had Jenny, Jason, Jeff, and Jill.
Thanks to a trusted critique partner who pointed this out, I was able to switch the names of two minor characters. Because I was more than half-way through the book, and Jason and Jenny played significant roles, I left their original names. I changed Jill to Susan and Jeff to Lance.
Okay, those names are okay. Right? Not necessarily. Lance is in only one scene, but it’s with the main male character, Vince. See the similarity? When Lance and Vince exchanged dialogue, even I became confused. Yes, Lance got a new name.
Here’s another potential problem with character names. Two other writers and I were discussing character names one evening. I had already begun brainstorming names for a new series I plan to write. I had Nikki, Tami, Sydney, and McKenzie.
See the pattern? I learned I’m fond of “e” names. I have a few in my upcoming release but chose not to change them since I was far into the book when I made this discovery.
One last thing about character names. I recommend keeping a list of names you’ve used. It’s easy to remember the names of your main characters, maybe not so easy for minor ones. Keeping a list helps an author not to repeat those names for characters in future books. The hero in your current release might not appeal to readers when you’ve had a villain by the same name in another book.
Let’s hear from you. Do you have specific ways of choosing character names? Any habits such as those I’ve described? Please share in the comments.