What’s in a name?

It might sound silly, but one of my biggest challenges when writing a new piece is picking the right name for my characters. I thought I had solved this problem when I started to christen characters with the names of people I worked with. This led to a bunch of ‘find and replace’ edits, because the problem when you write spec fic (or any interesting fiction for that matter) is often your characters end up doing not so nice things, and for some funny reason people don’t like to have characters named after them who do evil, stupid, or deplorable things.

So where do you get names? I’ve resorted to the phone book, my local newspaper, baby books, movie credits but invariably I come back to friends. Yes, most of my characters are a mix of my friends first and last names. I know that JK Rowling named some of the death eaters after her friends, so at least I’m in good company.

Paragon, the novel I have just published on Smashwords, had major character name changes three times during its pre-published life. It seemed that no sooner had I decided on a name and someone with that name would release a naughty video, or skyrocket to stardom for singing an inane song. Or both.

A character’s name is so important for setting the feel of a character that you don’t want to get it wrong. If my dashing male hero was called Blossom, well then it would have to be a comedy. Which then brings us to the whole life experience factor. If every Peta I’ve met has been lovely, but every Peta you have me has been a bimbo then we are on different paths from the outset.

Perhaps that is why so many fantasy books make up names like Bal’ash and El’argor’ror instead of just calling people Nick and Cindy?