Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Sunday, May 20, 2012

My Characters Are Named After Who?

"The name of a man is a numbing blow from which he never recovers." ~ Marshall McLuhan

"Proper names are poetry in the raw. Like all poetry they are untranslateable." ~ W.H. Auden

"Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names." ~ John F. Kennedy

Naming your characters can be a whole lot of trouble. You might name them after people you know. You might name them after someone from history. You might even mix and match names from current day names and see what you come up with. By the way, I will never, ever name a character Apple, Trig, Dweezil, or Mitt. That's just cruel.

And so I thought that today I might talk about some of the pitfalls of character naming.

There are names that should be avoided at all costs. There are other names that you might like to use, but circumstances won't allow it. Some names must be forever off limits. I'll never name characters after my sisters for instance. As readers who've been following me for awhile know, I'm no longer on speaking terms with either of those two, so their names carry a certain negative influence.

Readers will also have heard my mentioning the idiot ex-brother-in-law from time to time. For those not aware, the idiot's name is Mike, and while I wouldn't use that name as is, I have used Michael as a character name, and I don't associate that character with the profoundly unpleasant bigoted jackass I had to put up with for years on end.

There are other names, people who pass in and out of our lives that we'll be wary of using, or refuse to use. In our joint novel Same Time Tomorrow, Norma and I (under our alter egos of Scarlett and James) have made use of a minor character named Jeremy, something of a real sleaze. Well, I do know a Jeremy, and yes, he's an irritating prat (Jeremy, face it, you are an irritating prat). Still, I don't have a problem using the name, but I'd never use it for a character I'd like. By extension, the name Scott is off limits to me. I also know a Scott. And as irritating as Jeremy is, compared to Scott, he's quite pleasant and cordial. Scott is one of those class A jackasses whom you wish would fall in front of a speeding train. (Scott, go jump off a train platform just as the VIA train is running through. We'll all watch. Scott? Scott? Where are you going, Scott? We're waiting on you to.... Damn. Moron.)

As I've been writing Heaven & Hell, I've used an unnamed American President. Down the line, however, I do intend to create a fictional president, and the surname I've thought for him or her (haven't decided that yet) would be Archer. This might be a bit of a problem, depending on the first name. You see, I'd find myself associating this President Archer with another Archer, who tends to be quite self absorbed, yells a lot, shoots at people much too readily, drinks too much, and has his way at any woman who crosses his path and proceeds to forget her name the next morning.

Then there are the names that might sound ideal at first, but something goes amiss. Hopefully you catch it early on. Because if you catch it after the book's finished, it's too late to go back and change everything. As I was starting out on Heaven & Hell, this was one issue that came up. One of my characters, Jacob Dayan, was originally meant to be named Jacob Cohen. I would have been quite satisfied with the name, but discovered that Jacob Cohen is, in fact, the birth name of the late Rodney Dangerfield.

I don't like Rodney Dangerfield. I don't like the whole drunken irresponsible schlub routine, the obnoxious oaf bit that he constantly did. Never did, never will. So the name had to go.

More recently, however, I made a discovery about my two main character's names quite by accident, and it's so ludicrous that I had to laugh. Primarily because it's much too late to go back and start changing names. Meredith Devon and Tom Stryker are the main characters of Heaven & Hell, and the books to come. I like the names, I've gotten used to thinking of them that way. A few days ago, I happened to go into IMDb to check on something. I rarely go there anymore, though I used to spend quite a bit of time there, and my user name has stryker in it. Rather then log in, I started entering stryker into search by mistake. A list of names came up, and one of them was one Devin Stryker. That was curious, I thought, having my two lead character's surnames match so closely to this woman's name.

That was enough to catch my eye, so I clicked on it. It seems that Devin Stryker goes by other professional names: Devin Striker, Devon Stryker, or Devon. Her roles include such titles as Intoxicated, Devon Is Girl Crazy, and Pussy Cats 2.

Devon Stryker

Yes, as you can tell from those titles, Devon is indeed a porn actress.

I told you it was ludicrous!


  1. stars are listed on IMDb? Interesting.

    Lots of authors use names of people they don't like as names for antagonists. It's a good way to deal with frustrations. The problem with this is that sometimes a name will have both a positive and a negative connection.

    Dr. Frankenstein????

  2. That was a very elaborate story you made up to avoid admitting how you new that porn star's name.;)

    Personally I could never use the name Randy, not even as an evil character. It took me years to even be able to say his name out loud. I did a lot of googling on baby naming sites to come up with my character's names.

  3. @Norma: You'd think the Doc would have changed his name, just so he wouldn't get looks through his entire professional career...

    @Christina: Not a story! I had no idea until I saw that name come up at IMDb.

    Randy's not a name that I could take seriously.

  4. I refuse to name characters after people I know, although I have used certain names of people I know, but changed their looks so that when I write about that character, I don't think of them. At times I find myself using the same name for different characters, just because I like the name. Also, if I don't like the name, I tend to use that name for the bad characters in my story that I don't like.

    That's funny about the names Devon and Stryker...

  5. Funny, but also all too true. There are many names I just can't use for characters because of past experience ... sometimes people I don't like, sometimes just because of a strong personality that keeps me from picturing anyone else with that name.

  6. I leave names until I get a feel for the character, they get something bland to start with but then it changes to suit. I've just written a scene set in ancient Egypt where the young priests mummifying people keep stuffing up the process, they remind me of tradies now, so they just got the names Doug and Dave - naturally I'll need to find the equivalent in old school Egyptian names.

  7. This post got me to wondering about the way we indentify ourselves. Our parents give us our names- do we take on a persona because of the name or because of the parents? Is this so with characters too? Oh no, another nature vs nurture question!

    Let's go back to talking about the porn actress. LOL

  8. Gives new meaning to "What's in a name?" doesn't it?

  9. It is so interesting how we will hate a certain name if someone we disliked had that name...especially if it was someone from our childhood..(I will never name anything, child, character or pet,Carrie! lol!)also, sometimes you come across someone who just does not 'look like' their name!
    In the movie 'A Fish Called Wanda', John Cleese's character's name was Archie Leach, which was the real name of Cleese's favourite actor, Cary Grant.
    Very interesting post!

  10. Names say a lot about people. Many a good name has been ruined for me by particularly naughty or annoying students.

  11. I'm sick of the latest trend to give babies unique and unusual names. I know someone who named their son, Orion, and another person who named their daughter Majestic Rose. What if she's just ordinary? How do you live up to a name like that?

  12. I named a character after
    Pokemon trainer Ash. My kids were constantly talking about him and I liked the name!

  13. @Maria: I'd be thinking of the character from the Evil Dead movies for the name Ash...

    @Deb: Orion? Majestic Rose? Are they nuts?

    @Talli: that would do it!

    @Eve: I remember that bit of trivia about Grant. Good thing he went with a more professional name. And I love A Fish Called Wanda.

    @Kelly: Yes it does!

    @Lynn: I used to say my parents were a bit vain... their names were reflected, in part, in four of their seven kids!

  14. Will, that is a very interesting discovery. It is difficult when trying to name characters. We want to reflect their personalities in their names, and sometimes we might use a symbolic name. I agree that using a hated name as an antagonist is a plus. Revenge time! There are some names I would never use, even for the bad guys (like my ex-husband's name)! Names are tricky, but so important. Creating our characters is like extending ourselves, so we want to love our characters names or be comfortable with them. Great post, Will! You brought up great ideas as usual!

  15. I often write a story using one name for a character, and change it when I finally feel I get the name right. If the character is based upon a person, I will use the real name in unpublished drafts, again, until I figure out the character's name. Hopefully, that will never get me into trouble... heh.

  16. That is a cool name tho... Devon STryker. Aw, I feel kinda bad for her, she has such an innocent smile. lol
    Anyway, I have an unnamed president in one of my stories... first I named him, then I just called him the President.... it was a tough call, and I wonder if it even really matters.

  17. She sure is pretty though. I learned the hard way with Dancing in Heaven. I followed April Hamilton's advice and set up a google alert for it. I get daily emails of hits from obituaries. It seems, not only Annie but everyone else is also Dancing in Heaven. And I thought the song title might be the biggest problem.

    That's one of the reasons I haven't taken on fiction--the names.

    Now you've piqued my curiosity about your sisters. I'm glad I'm not the only one who has ticked off siblings.


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