Name that character!

One thing every fiction author must grapple with is what to name his characters. This is not as easy as it might appear. First off, the name must fit the character, or at least not conflict with it. If your character is the king of the barbarian horsemen, it would not do to name him something like Percy Poodle. By the same token, the queen of the forest elves should not be named Bertha Von Tannenshlager. There is a reason it was Conan the barbarian and not Nigel. Another informal rule is to differentiate between names so readers will not get confused. It is bad form indeed to have John Smith interacting with John Smythe. It’s even a good idea to have names all beginning with different letters. One violator of this rule was JRR Tokien, who had a villain named Sauron and another named Saruman in The Lord of the Rings. Russian novels are the worst in this regard; not only are half the characters saddled with names ending in “sky”, or “ov”, or “vich”, but each character usually has several nicknames. In Crime and Punishment, the main character is Rodoin Raskolnikov, but is also called Rodya. Rodinka, and Rodka.

Charles Dickens was the master of memorable names that seemed to fit the characters. Only Dickens would have characters such as Mr.Pecsniff, Major Bagstock, Newman Noggs, Mr. Pickwick, Mr. Choakumchild, Lady Dedlock, Mr. Fezziwig, Thomas Gradgrind, Mrs Jellyby, Mr. Murdstone, Mr. Pumblechook, Samuel Slumkey, and of course, the ever-popular Wackford Squeers.

My own characters have names from various sources. In the Max Hurlock Roaring 20s  Mysteries, Hurlock is the name of an Eastern Shore town and Max is from Macks Road, near St Michaels. Allison comes from Allison MacKensie of Peyton Place. Isis Dalryple, the town librarian is a somewhat pretentious know it all, and I thought the exotic name Isis, combined with the slightly stuffy Dalrymple would reflect her split personality. Duffy Merkle’s first name is my sister’s married name and the name of one of my daughter’s old classmates. Chip Carswell’s name is intended to convey the image of a preppy, frat boy type. In  the Tyler Flanagan series, I have no idea where Flanagan came from, but I liked the Irish sound of it. Maria Velenziaga was selected because it seemed to sound both mysterious and Mexican.

My favorite name the character story, however, is from the world of TV. When the British series The Avengers was being developed, they had a name for the male character, but couldn’t think of one for the female. So as they worked up the first scripts, they simply referred to her as “male appeal”, since that was felt to be her primary role in the show. So it was John Steed and Male Appeal do this and John Steed and Male Appeal do that. Finally, they shortened it to simply M. Appeal. John Steed and M. Appeal do something else. Finally, they had to come up with a name for the female lead. “What do we call M. Appeal?” The answer was obvious. The female lead would be called Emma Peel, and  TV legend was born.


Of course, having Diana Rigg play Mrs. Peel didn’t hurt either.

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One Response to Name that character!

  1. I found a first name dictionary at a library booksale. It helps. Second recourse, the telephone book.

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