Saturday, 22 February 2014

On Writing: What's in a Name?

A friend asked me the other day how I come up with names for the main characters in my various novels. The truth is, I do not have a set formula. I rely on all kinds of different methods. There's the tried and true method of finding surnames inside the telephone directory (a great way of discovering what are the most common names for a particular area,) and first names from newspapers and baby name books, but sometimes I've found myself moving well outside of the square to try and find that elusive perfect name for a character. And for my latest post, I thought it might be fun to share with you how I came up with names for my lead characters in three of my four novels. (I am not including Lochie from Lochie's Crush in this as her name was explained in the first chapter of the book.)


Abigail Carter--Being Abigail (2010) 

As some of you may know, I started writing about Abigail many, many years before I first published her blog or the subsequent book, Being Abigail. (I'm rewriting some of her early stories and intend to publish them as a book later this year, but that is another story.) Anyway, consequently, the naming process for many of the early characters was probably the most complicated and over-ambitious. 

Abigail means A Father's Joy, or My Father's Joy. While that doesn't seem very special or fitting, given that the blog and book are about a women in her twenties, the early stories featured a teenage Abigail who felt abandoned by her absent rock star father. And because Langston is a rock star, a number of characters are named after various musicians--Abigail's surname, Carter, is after June Carter for example. Her Uncle Cliff is named after Cliff Richard. Not many of these characters appear in Being Abigail. There are also a few other characters such as Marta, who were named after people that I know in real life. 

As for Abigail's long-suffering love interest Samuel, I took his name from the Bible. 

Kellie-Sue Smith (nee Jones)--Best Forgotten (2012)

Long suffering Kellie-Sue explains to readers that, out of ignorance, her American father gave her a name that she was almost certain to be teased about in an Australian high school. I chose the name because it sounds a little clumsy without being too out there or over the top about it. It's also a stark contrast to the refined name that was chosen for her snooty twin sister, Cassandra. 

As for her surname well ... I figured Kellie-Sue had suffered enough and chose to give her something simple. 

Catlin Ryan--Behind the Scenes (2013)

Believe it or not, Catlin Ryan was known as Jacqueline Jones in the early drafts of Behind the Scenes. In fact, it was only when I began to polish the novel that I realised two things. First and foremost, I had already used the surname, Jones, in Best Forgotten. As both novels were set in the same part of Adelaide and the characters were roughly the same age, I did not want to imply that they were related. Consequently, my heroine's surname was changed to Ryan. The only trouble with this was, after speaking the name out loud a couple of times, I decided that Jacqueline Ryan sounded too clumsy. After making a short-list of names that would sound good with Ryan, I cut it down to three. Catherine Ryan, Cathleen Ryan and Caitlin Ryan. 

Catherine was soon vetoed for the obvious reason--it's too similar to my own name. Ditto for Cathleen. And to be honest, I just did not like the name Caitlin enough to name my heroine that. When I stumbled across the name Catlin, I decided that it was a perfect compromise--a combination of the names Catherine and Caitlin. Later in the final draft of the novel, I had fun inserting a scene where Phil mistakenly calls her Caitlin and is soon corrected. There was meant to be another where her called her Catherine, but that one didn't make the final edit.