What’s in a name? Cultural references and your hero/heroine

27 09 2013

Now we have a new Prince, is George destined to be the name of heroes and lovers rather than office workers and bores? George Clooney started the rot with his handsome ruggedness but now the name is securely that of a real man.

How do you choose your character names when all the good names are being associated with the great or good, famous or infamous? There are so many so-called celebrities flashing themselves brightly for their 15-minutes that it is difficult to find a name without a cultural reference – if not for you then for one of your editing circle.

Nicknames may be the way forward for some but you can’t use them for everyone in your book or you’ll lose the reader in a morass of confusion.

Changing names depending on the subjective voice in your book is another way to change a perception of a character. His mum says William, his friends call him Bill, his niece cutely speaks about Uncle Billykins and the police just say Mr Adams.

You could go for the commonplace – everyone knows a couple of Johns, Simons, Lisas, Sandras. No single character trait will therefore be endowed. You can give them their own life history, their own cultural references. Elton and Elvis are more difficult to assign to new characters though.

How about surnames? If nothing comes to mind, you can’t beat a good road atlas. Place names abound through literature without you even noticing!