Naming Characters

baptism Giving characters names is a little like giving birth, but much more fun. There’s less pain, which is always good, and because you have more than one to name, you don’t have to be torn between two favourites. Just save it for your next hero or heroine!

So far, I haven’t faced difficulties with character’s first names. Many of them come into my head already named. Whether this is innate genius on my part, or an inherent laziness in going with the first option, I’m still not able to decide. It might help that I like ‘ordinary’ names – I’m not reaching for a unique appellation. My current heroine is Charlotte, and her two predecessors were Anna and Sophie. Their counterparts are Richard, John and Mark.

Where do they come from, these names? Well, I’m fairly well-steeped in literature of the period – some day I must name a character Jane, but none has come forward yet. The Bible is always a fairly safe source. And there’s an excellent website on British baby names, setting them out by historical period, which is very helpful. See for the Georgian/Regency selection.

Surnames can be trickier – sometimes I want a word that sounds like another, so I try over various combinations of vowels and consonants to find something tha sounds vaguely plausible. Beverley Nicols, an early 20thc writer, recommended Bradshaw’s railway guide as a source of names. P G Wodehouse famously named his Salopian Earl of Emsworth after a small town on the south coast of England. So if you’re stuck, try typing the name of a place (anywhere will do) into a map search engine, and roam around that countryside looking for something euphonic.

If you’re endowing someone with a title, this is a good way to create it, since most titles are based on land names. But do make sure you check that there isn’t someone with that exact title still around. And be aware of the ‘level’ of your invented title – make sure the rank matches the character you wanted to create. The order of precedence is explained here – and on limitless other websites.


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