Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Naming my main characters

When I sat down to write Unthinkable, I knew how the book should start: We enter the scene with a single line of dialog (I know: the “rules” say you shouldn’t do that; maybe more in another post), and a main character’s name is given in this line.  I typed “So, you see, Mr” and stopped.  I didn’t know what his name was.

With exactly four words written, I had no idea what the next word should be.  And it was a main character’s name.

At this point I didn’t want any of my characters’ names to be symbolic or referential (though this changed somewhat when I got to Seen Sean?).

Obviously, I was “pantsing,” but hey, it was my first novel and I (mostly) knew where the story was going.

I just didn’t know a Main Character’s name.

So I sat. I thought. I sat and thought.  Some more.

The first name that came to mind was “Penfeld.”  That sounded almost right, but a quick search of the 1990 U.S. Census data showed no entries for that name.  But there was a name that was close: “Penfield”  And that was that.  Though uncommon, “Penfield” had the advantage of being easier to pronounce and spell than “Crigler.”  You might not believe some of the variations we’ve seen and heard — but I digress.

My police detective, also a main character, still needed a name.  So I just pulled a name, “Mason,” out of the air and I liked it: it was common enough (it’s in the top 150 in the Census data), and it conveyed a solid, plainspoken feel.

What do you think?  Were the names chosen well in spite of my lack of method?

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