Tag Archives: Names

What’s in a name?

I was a chapter and a half into a WIP when I realised something wasn’t working. After redrafting and editing and still getting nowhere with what I knew could be a great story it dawned on me the problem wasn’t with the story but with the heroine. I just wasn’t feeling her (unlike the hero who was more than happy to have a go much earlier than I was expecting him to, though that’s another story…) and I realised it came down to one reason: her name.

I had inadvertently chosen the name of a real person I had once known and instead of picturing my heroine I had a subconscious mental image of someone who most definitely didn’t deserve to get her hands on my hero.  As soon as I went back to the drawing board and renamed the character the scenes began to come together.

Names are funny things. However much I plan, I can’t get down to the business of writing the story unless I’ve found the right name. I estimate I’ve spent as much time choosing names for my characters as I did for my children*, though for them I had the whole of history to go at rather that medieval England. I try to use authentic names for my characters.  I can happily spend hours poring over documents from the time for inspiration so you’ll never find a Lady Chardonnay or Sir Kevin but I’ve also developed a few rules too.

Rule 1. Heroines can have two syllable names but heroes should be called something short, or a name that can be shortened (nicknames and dropping titles is a way I like to show the growing intimacy between the characters).

My first hero, Hugh in Falling for Her Captor was named after Hugh Jackman – which probably indicates where my mind was while I was writing. I like single syllables that to me at least sound a bit tough and masculine to say out loud: Hugh, Will, Hal. Rhett… Han… Jon… Thor (?!?)…

Four books in I’ve already broken this rule with the hero of The Saxon Outlaw’s Revenge with a hero called Aelric who goes by the alias Caddoc but finding a one-syllable Anglo-Saxon name proved almost impossible (and be thankful he isn’t called Aethilberct).

SOR front

I’ve slightly backed myself into a corner with my next book to be released because when I wrote The Blacksmith’s Wife I didn’t intend Roger to be anything more than the villain (perhaps having a name that became slang for penis is part of the reason he was so bitter).  Now he’s got his own book as readers were intrigued by him and is saddled with a less than heroic sounding name even though the Germanic origin means ‘renown + spear’ which fits his ambition to be a great jouster well. Isn’t that a lucky coincidence!

Rule 2. After hours spent with my spellcheck trying to change my second hero Will Rudhale’s tenses, I added a new which is never use a name that is also a verb (‘Do you mean ‘will try’ not ‘Will tried’? No I ****ing don’t, nor did I the last 27 times!)

Rule 3. Avoid the Dickensian ‘Mr Nastyb*stard, official puppy kicker of London Town’ method of indicating character through names.  Having said that I’m having to seriously resist following the suggestion of Baron Longden Hardthrust of Broadshaft Hall.

Rule 4. The biggie. Avoid the names of friends and family. Especially men. Mainly because I have a low embarrassment threshold and don’t ever want to have the ‘so that’s me in the book is it?’ conversation (which amazingly I’ve had even when the names don’t match). Chances are if I know you then you are in there somewhere because all writers are magpies and collect mannerisms, features and conversations but whether you’re the love interest, villain or comic relief I absolutely refuse to say!

*One named for a series of inventors, the other after a character in Buffy the Vampire Slayer if you’re interested.

Do you have a favourite character name, or one that turns you straight off the book? Do share in the comments.

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What’s in a name?

Choose a pen name.  Easy right?  My original pseudonym – DeeDee Elle- came about as an in joke based on an online mum’s group when I needed something to hide behind on Wattpad (my day job is teaching so it was a definite necessity).  It was a good name, it did the job, the women who knew the connection thought it was fun, and occasionally people would ask where it came from.  A male friend finally admitted he had wondered if it was my bra size.  I became quite fond of DeeDee.

However, when I got The Call from Sarah at Harlequin, she asked was I going to use that, my real name or something else entirely.  It was time to change.

Now, I’ve named two children and neither has objected to what they’ve been saddled with so this should have been a doddle.

Think again.

Alliteration?  Nope, too comic book heroine.

The old ‘name of first pet and name of street’?  Baggins Barfield.  Try again.

Where was I when I got The Call?  On a ferry approaching Dover.  Something White?  Something Cliff.  Chanelle Ferry? Nope.

How about combining the name of a family member and someone famous?  Youngest daughter’s middle name is nice.  I’ve just been skiing and Chemmy Alcott is a pretty good female role model  Yep.  Louisa Alcott.  That’ll do nicely.  Oh…

Friends and family were exceedingly helpful and I’ll be forever grateful for the suggestions of Hooty McBoob, Lavinia Lustworth, Monica De Plume and others far too indecent for public viewing!

At this point my husband got out the map and we started on the bad puns.  Say almost hello to Heather Alderley, Olivia Yorke and Louisa Canterbury.  Historical maybe, but not very romantic.

The children decide to join in the game and draw on their extensive knowledge of CBeebies characters, but I don’t think Katie Morag Tumble is quite the image I’m going for.

I’m tearing my hair out and wondering if I’ll ever be able to reply to Sarah or if I really will be going with Anne Onymous after all.

And then the cat wanders in.  Old, arthritic, getting bonier by the day and the only one the children didn’t land with something utterly ridiculous.  Most of my writing takes place with him slumped across my legs or lying across my arm with his head on the laptop (I blame him for the typos).  So in tribute to him I’ve stolen his name.  The other half is one of mine.

I’ll leave it to you to decide which is which.