Tag Archives: naming characters

what’s in a name? (quite a lot, as it turns out)

I finished my structural edit last week, and have moved on to a line edit (this is where I get to just read through and fix single lines, or delete single paragraphs that aren’t quite working. Hopefully it’s not the bit where I find whole bits of the book that still aren’t working).

The oddest, most enjoyable part of the process has been changing the name of almost every character in the book.

I don’t tend to agonise over character names when I begin – but that being said, every name has a distinct feeling to me that has to match the character. I’m one of those odd people who sees the week ahead as a 3D object in my mind, and attributes colours to numbers. So I have a feeling about a character, that’s a mix of colour and tone and shape and random adjectives, and I cycle through names until one fits.

The name-changing process has been much more conscious. The first to change was my heroine, Beatrice Sutherland. She’s most often called Bea, and thinks of herself as Bea. I started to notice, as I wrote the second half of the novel, that my hero always calls her by her full name – and he’s the only one to do so.

This felt important. She begins the novel as a tough country girl who works hard all day to keep her family afloat. Her journey is realising how narrow she has made herself, and beginning to see how powerful she could be in the world if she just lets herself think big-picture. I wondered whether I could make a better distinction between her pet-name and her full name, so that one would represent her as the country girl, the other as the powerful woman. Then, when the hero calls her by her name, he’s really calling her to be great.

The very first construction to occur to me was Kit/Katherine. I have a fondness for the name Kit, partly because it was my grandma’s name, and partly because it’s such a perfect tom-boy name. It really seemed to capture who my heroine is to begin, and how spare and tough she is. There are many, many K(C)atherines in my life, so I was a little hesitant to use it, but it’s such a grown up, strong sort of a name, that I kept coming back to it.

The second change was easier, and more mercenary. Kit’s mother was called Lucy, but my eye kept confusing it with Kit’s sister, Lydia. I cast around a little – with some of Lucy’s history in mind, her aristocratic, possibly-of-German-descent family – and came up with Gretchen. It has the same girlish tone as Lucy, which is important for her character.

Then came my favourite change so far. Lydia’s husband is the Scottish Earl of Danes. Danes was never a particularly Scottish sounding title, and Cat pointed out long ago that it was slightly confusing given that it describes a whole nation’s people. However, while I was writing I could only think of him as Danes, and couldn’t change it. In editing it became clear that I have a total love affair with the letter D – my hero is only the very alliterate Duke of Darlington.

Special k and I started talking about what makes a Scottish name, and he mentioned “Ben”, meaning mountain, instead of the more common “Mac”. I eventually came to what I think is the coolest title ever: The Earl of BenRuin. Even special k liked it, so big gold star to me.

The thing about all the changes I’ve talked about so far is that every single one of them deepened the character for me. They added a new facet – made them seem more real and interesting. They allowed me to read my own characters as though I hadn’t created them, but they existed somewhere beyond me.

The last change, though, I am finding almost impossible to make.

My hero has been, from the very first moment, Roscoe, Duke of Darlington. The name came from the song Roscoe by Midlake¬†which is just a killer song, and make me fall in love with it. For me, it had no other context than that. As I’ve been getting more and more feedback, though, I’ve started to notice that Americans read the name Roscoe with a context. Then I read the hilarious review over on Dear Author of Hot On Her Trail, which is some truly awful sounding cow-ranch erotica. The P.I. the cowboys keep on retainer is called Roscoe. I knew it was time to face my suspicions.

On Saturday I put the call-out on Twitter: What do you think of, when you hear the name Roscoe? The answer was not encouraging.

It mostly consisted of fond reminiscences over Dukes of Hazzard and this guy:

A frighteningly intelligent duke – who can also totally pull off wearing a dress – he ain’t.

The problem is Roscoe is – Roscoe. He’s the one to whom only that name seems to fit. However, I have found a pretty great baby name website (which is gold, there are so many crappy ones out there) and I’m working my way through the alphabet. I’m currently on D. Wish me luck!