I’ve heard that many writers sweat over the names of their characters. One very famous romance writer (I’m not sure which one or I would name her) says that she cannot begin a story until her characters have the perfect name. I’m not like that. While I’ll put some effort into naming primary characters–the ones that will live on throughout a series of books–secondary characters are get their names sort of at random.
Nathan Bailey, the eponymous character of my first novel, Nathan’s Run, got his name by process of elimination. My son, Chris, was about the same age as Nathan when I wrote the book, and since I knew what lay ahead for the character, I couldn’t name him Chris. But because he was the same age, and kids are not always forgiving sorts, I couldn’t use the names of any of his friends. He didn’t know any Nathans at the time, and Nathan Hale has always held a prime spot in my panoply of noble patriots. Nathan’s last name, Bailey, is a direct nod to George Bailey of It’s A Wonderful Life.
Lyle Pointer, the twisted bad guy in Nathans Run, and Warren Michaels, the kind-hearted cop, are both named as they are because I thought their names worked against type.
Jonathan Grave, the protagonist of my hostage rescue series, is named as a convenience. In my original plan for the series, I imagined a branded line of titles like Grave Danger, Grave Peril, Grave Doubt, etc. It turned out that I was the only person in my editorial food chain who thought that was anything but a terrible idea. I kept the name because I had already finished the book, and I like the character. (Hand to God: It never occurred to me that Jonathan and I share a monogram until I was many books into the series and a fan asked about it.)
Secondary characters in general come from one of two sources. Each year, I auction character names for charitable fundraisers, and those winners get a prime secondary spot–often as the bad guy, but not always. My next alternative is to go to IMDB, pick a movie that I like, and then click on “all cast and crew.” I rarely copy both the first and last names of crew members, but rather mix and match them.
Ethnic characters. Over the course of the Grave series, most of my bad guys have been American, but I’ve exploited Chechen, Russian and Mexican bad guys, too. (Jonathan and the cartels don’t get along at all.) For those names, I’ll do a Google search for “Chechen names,” or likewise for another nationality. It’s astonishing how that never lets me down.
Richard Goldsbury was the bully who preyed on me in junior high school. He’s died in at least five books. Most recently, he was incinerated in a nuclear blast.
Laziness. I don’t like typing complicated names. In my new Victoria Emerson series, a throwaway character named First Sergeant Paul Copley turned out to have a more significant role that I thought he would, and I ended up having to type his name a lot. I have accordingly instructed the autocorrect in Word to change “1stsgt” to First Sergeant. “1stsgtp” becomes First Sergeant Paul Copley and “1sgtc” becomes First Sergeant Copley.
Amusement. In one of the Grave books (I think it’s No Mercy), Jonathan and his buddy Boxers encounter a guy named Dick Semen, and they get the giggles. Thrillers need some comic relief and that worked. In fact, I’m smiling as I write this, thinking back on the scene. (Aspiring writers please note: men’s true senses of humor form and solidify when they’re 12 years old. Farts and funny names will always be funny. The more inappropriate the timing, the funnier they will be. [See: Rusty Bed Springs by I.P. Nightly.])
So, Killzone family . . . Any thoughts on naming characters? Any tricks or resources you’d like to share?