Friday, 19 November 2010

Naming Names

So I’m spending my Friday night looking at a map of Britain, trying to get inspiration for a character’s name. There are some good possible contenders for surnames:

Willoughby, Lovell, Foscott …

Digby? Angus Digby?

Oh, it’s really hard. I’ve virtually finished the book and the character’s name is currently Sam Richards, but it’s not right. He’s a seven-year-old boy, a little bit spoilt, but with a good, brave heart. The book is the first in a series so I want the name to be strong, but a little bit quirky.

Burton Coggles! Far too quirky! It could be a double barrelled name, but he’s not a posh character, so that wouldn’t really be right

Todd Finchley – could be good.

I liked the name Edward Poots, but Pete, my husband turned his nose up. He’s probably right. It’s a bit Dickensian. Single syllable surnames are good though – Jones, Smith, Black.

My favourite so far is Thomas Tripp, but it’s actually a pub, named after a local smuggler. Would it be cheeky to rip it off and steal the name, or would people say, “oh yeah, she ripped it off and stole the name”? 

I also like Nathan Jones, but that’s probably because it’s familiar to me – Pete (again) pointed out that it’s the name of a song and, thinking about it, I do vaguely remember the Bananarama version.

Why are names so hard to get right? I know that if I do get it right, his character will come alive. Novelist, Elmore Leonard, once said in an interview that he had a problem with one of his characters - he couldn’t write any dialogue for him. He kept getting writers block. Then, as soon as he changed his name, he couldn’t shut him up.

What about the name Dylan Jones? But he’s not from Wales, so it would be confusing. Readers would wonder why he had a Welsh name.

George Swift is another possible. Wilbur? Walter? Arghhhh.  I’ve been thinking about this name for months.

Any suggestions?


  1. Isn't the "map" technique what Tolkien used? It didn't do any harm there so go for it. I love naming characters - sometimes I'll add an extra character so they can have a name I like. The name always comes first for some reason - along with a set of attributes. Like Lotte Frohm the ill-fated hard-working but unsavvy scientist in my first proper short, or Haydn Shaw the cold, beautiful 40-something femme fatale in my first novel. Or even Greg and Kelly from a short set on a US porn shoot.
    Single syllable surnames - Foss(e) is a good map-based one - Dylan Foss is clearly not Welsh. He's 30, from Dorset, and looks like Rupert Graves. Hunt and Hirst are good ones too. If he's esgier then Priest because it makes it sound like he'd be played by Jimmy Nesbitt. Bird works too because he can have sinister nicknames. and so on

  2. Hey, girl

    I love Todd Finchley. Perfect.

    Me, I went to google a site with baby names. Rather useful :-) This is how Riordan came about.

  3. Dan, Lotte Frohm. How did you come up with such a fantastic name?

    Hey Stella, Todd Finchley was my favourite too, until Gerry came up with the name Milo. I'm leaning towards Milo Swift now. What do you think?

  4. I still prefer Todd Finchley. It's a name that sits well on the tongue.

  5. Milo Jones? Sounds like a jazz player. Milo Black? (still jazzy!) Milo anything seems the same. How about Matthew Miles? Miles Matthews?
    Enzo Jones? Josh Jones. Noah Brigston. Sorry I haven't woken up yet. Catch up with you on authonomy. Fontaine.

  6. Thanks, Fontaine. Noah's good - need to think of a surname to go with it. At the moment I'm kind of torn between Todd Finchley and Ben Swift. I still like Milo, but it's not a name everyone warms to.

  7. You need to think of the time period and therefore have a suitable name. I saw Benjamin mentioned yesterday. Benjamin Swift, yes, Ben Swift, no, Todd Finchley, yes.

    If I'd had a say, Benjamin Swift it would be. Perfect for a little cheeky boy, and I still see the scene in the bus before me, so I feel he's a Benjamin Swift.

    By the way, since the change to my pen name, I have to rename my Stella too and decided to name her Celia. Celia Watson. See? It's simple :-)

  8. ha ha. I have no idea. I just had this opening sentence "In 1933 the brilliant scientist Liselotte Frohm carried out an experiment with rats" and the title Lotte's Rats. I have a feeling it may be a hybrid from the names of various of my best man's ex girlfriends :)

  9. Ooh, Stella. It's not one of the boys on the bus - It's a new name for Sam who's a modern boy from the other time period. Jimmy Sweeney is the 1940s boy and I'm happy with that name :)

  10. Oh dear. I seem to have lost the plot. haha Jimmy Sweeney is indeed a great name.

    Well Nathan might work then. I just saw Nathan Haywood. Great name.

  11. Hi Shalini,

    I like Rufus Gates, it's strong and just unusual enough to be memorable.

    Best of luck, James.

  12. There's a village somewhere in the Midlands called Boothby Pagnall. It may not fit this character but it's a name that must be used at some time!

    F1 x
    ps. If not Boothby Pagnall, Nathan Pepper gets my vote.

  13. I'm trying out Nathan Pepper :D It seems to be working. I've also changed his age to 12 to try to fit in with my target audience. Jimmy Sweeney is still 6 though. Going for an older brother type relationship.

    Thanks everyone, for your input - it stops me muttering away to myself xxx

  14. The right name is so essential, and sometimes, so impossible to find.