What's in a Character Name?

Lemony Snicket, Charlie Bucket, Simon Legree, Voldemort, Sherlock Holmes, Scarlett O’Hara, Huckleberry Finn, Ebenezer Scrooge…the list goes on and on. A character can leap off the page and onto the reader’s shoulder with the right name. The very names themselves burst with personality. How do writers conjure them? Often the name “pops” into one’s head (Corrie Locke jumped right in my head, first thing. I pictured a strong female who believes folding or caving in is not an option and who thrives on dangerous, risky situations). Other times names are carefully selected. I’m going to focus on the latter since there’s no accounting for the popping.

Names set the tone for the book. What if Scarlett had been Susan? Or Huckleberry had been Harry? It wouldn’t be the same. A sampling of the stories behind my namings:

Michael and James: These are the real life, middle names of my favorite men. I wanted classic, strong names for heroes that represented every man…if every man was smart, brave, hot, handy in the kitchen and at the beck and call of the heroine in their lives.

Veera Bankhead: In high school, a student had this unforgettable surname, which I’d mentally filed away. She’s Corrie’s sidekick and friend. Gwenaveera (Veera, for short) is a derivative of Guinevere and reminds me of a resourceful, driven, loyal, noble, virtuous woman, or so I imagined from the Arthurian tales. Veera is resourceful, loyal, noble and almost virtuous, so it was a perfect fit.

Druby: I met a cabinet maker named Druby, which I adopted for this book. The real Druby was talented, handy, and popular, kind of like the fictional character. Hence, the victim in my story was born with a simple, different, yet memorable name.

Paprika: This character’s original name was Kristy, but was changed in a late draft because I felt it was too close to “Corrie,” not to mention mediocre and dull, unworthy of a volatile, unpredictable, and manipulative character. And a spicy one as well.

Clayton Pott: One afternoon, I drove home with a large ornamental clay pot in the passenger seat. I thought, “Look at you, so pretty on the outside, but empty on the inside. It’s all about looks, isn’t it? You shallow, self-absorbed, dirt bag.” The conversation continued in this manner. And Clay Pott was born.

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8 years ago

Hi Lida. I liked the names you picked in your book. Who are the James & Michael, your sons? how did you come up with Paprika?

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