What's in a name?
One or two of you have been in touch asking me as an author how I go about choosing character names. I don’t know how many of you will have struggled with the same dilemma when naming either a child or a pet. It seems it doesn’t matter how much thought you give the problem in advance, certainly if you’re like me the name only really gets finally decided upon once the person – or animal – is there, right in front of you.
In some ways, I find it’s no different as an author. For example, when I was writing The Stand-In, my stand-in teacher protagonist began life in my mind as Matt Thomas. Don’t ask me why, but I wanted to name this character Matt Thomas. I kept asking a few of my friends what they thought and they would ‘um’ and ‘ah’ in that way you know really means ‘it’s okay, but not perfect’ – but every time I tried with a different name, it never seemed to work. So, Matt Thomas it was, all the way to the very end. This was going to be a Matt Thomas thriller!
Then, I put the book in my electronic bottom drawer and didn’t look at it for three months. If you ever want to read a brilliant book about writing, I can’t recommend more highly Stephen King’s book, ‘On Writing’. He wrote it after a near-fatal traffic accident. It’s a great insight into some writing do’s and don’ts. One of his top tips is to finish a book and then forget about it for three months – then, and only then, come back and re-read it.
Which is what I did with The Stand-in and instantly realised that Matt Thomas was a bit cardboard cut-out and needed to change. Into what, though? I went to town on looking for other names that felt in-character. I tried dozens upon dozens of alternatives. However, a bit like naming a child that’s just been born, it was only when I eventually stumbled on the idea of calling him Calum Ross, the name instantly gelled. It just felt right. There we are – some people might think that choosing names is easy. Sometimes it is. Sometimes, it is a genuine challenge.
If any of you have any favourite character names from recent thrillers you have read, do share them. Also, if you’ve any great new thrillers to recommend that I can pass on to others, then I’d love to hear about them too.