I often wonder when I am reading a book what you, the authors, consider might be going through my mind as I am reading your masterpieces. I’m guessing that it’s – I hope the reader is captivated, enthralled, riveted, will review my work and give it 5 stars and help me on the way to Rowling success and wealth. Most of the time I am and I do. However, I’m also one of those people who doesn’t always keep her eyes on the road ahead, and I often find myself equally interested in the side roads off the main highway. I’m the type of person who catches the continuity girl out on TV shows – I’ll spot that the microwave’s moved, that the window was shut when it was open in the scene just before, or that a mirror has changed to a painting. I would have made a good continuity girl. It’s detail, I like detail.
So, I often wonder why you choose a particular country or state or town for your book’s setting; I often wonder how you choose the clothes your characters are wearing; how and why you decide what they will look like; how you decide how their homes are furnished; how you decide on their ages, their families, their choice of cars. I did say I go down the side roads.
One of those ‘side road’ thoughts I often have is: how do you choose the names for your characters? Do you opt for names you particularly like, or would have liked to have been called, or will call your six children when you have them? Do you call your characters after friends and family that resemble those characters? Or do you look at Great-Uncle Clifford asleep in the armchair, dribbling into his cold cup of tea and think, ‘Yes, my axe-murdering serial killer will be a Clifford’. Or do you stick a pin in the phone book? There is a myriad of ways I guess and I’d love to know – I’m fascinated by detail. I’m one of the ‘why?’ people. I have to know how everything works. I’ll be the one on the plane asking my husband, ‘How come we aren’t falling out of the sky?’ Fortunately for me, he is scientific/mathematical/jolly clever and knows the answers to all these things.
What do you do if you are trying to find the name for your Croatian character? Or your Namibian character? I suppose it’s not quite so easy then. A fellow member of a Facebook group recommended to its author members the following website: http://www.behindthename.com/random/. Some of you may well have come across it. I sneaked a peak and thought, gosh, that’s rather neat and thought I’d check out the English names – I opted for first name, middle name and a random surname. Tristan Raleigh Ruggles. Hmmm. Let’s try again. Eveleen Viola Myles. Oh dear. One more try. Lucius Alden Wembley. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. What’s her problem? you may ask. These are typically American names. (Are they? I don’t know – they certainly aren’t typically British). Apart from Tristan, the others certainly aren’t popular or common British names. True, the top ten baby names in the UK will differ from those in the US, and I’m guessing there won’t be any similarities. I’m not always aware when I start to read a book whether the author is from the US or British, but the choice of names is usually a good indication from which side of the pond that author is. Fair enough; but if a random selection is that obscure, is it wise to take a risk on a Serbian or Latvian name?
I read a very good book in which the male protagonist was a British professor. The author, I gathered later, had spent a short while in London and for the most part she portrayed him exemplarily; except for – his name. His name was probably last used – let me see – in AD 125. Our brilliantly portrayed English professor lost credibility with one small detail.
One author told me he had a Turkish character in his book and stumbled upon a mechanic when he took his car to be fixed, who turned out to be…tadah! Turkish. His character had his name in an instant – and a current, typical one.
I’m not a great fan of using computer-generated software to assist in things like grammar, syntax, etc, I don’t even like spellcheck – there are pitfalls (makes silly suggestions, misses obvious ones). So, at the risk of doing the granny and egg-sucking thing, if you are looking for a foreign name, perhaps check out your newsagent and pick up a newspaper or chat magazine in the language and look at celebrities’ or reporters’ names. Or go to the local Chinese/Indian/Italian/Spanish/Thai restaurant and ask the waiters’ names.
Your characters are very special to you and you want them to be equally so to your readers. You have given birth to them and honed them to perfection. Give them a name to be proud of.
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