Selecting the Right Character Name

“How attached are you to the name Anna May?”

Sandy Isaac’s question took me and six other members of Guelph Write Now by surprise. While I appreciated the many critique suggestions I had received, I wondered about Sandy’s question. Anna May is the villain in my cozy mystery, A Season for Killing Blondes, and I wasn’t prepared to change her name. Along with her two sisters and cousin, the Godfrey women all have double names: Anna May, Carrie Ann, Jenny Marie and Melly Grace. I had given much thought to the double names and I didn’t really want to change any of them.

Sandy noticed my hesitation and explained her resistance to the name. Said quickly, Anna May becomes “anime,” a style of animation often featuring themes intended for an adult audience.  Two of the other members nodded, while five of us merely shrugged. But Sandy’s concern raised several questions in my mind. How would my readers respond? Would they make the same connection as Sandy? Would Anna May’s name suit or hinder her villain status?

A well-chosen name sets the right tone for the character and, in some cases, may even suggest certain physical, emotional or psychological characteristics. For example, James Bond flows well and suggests excitement and wealth, while Scarlett O’Hara conjures up images of plantations and Southern belles.

Some writers devote considerable time to the process. Short one-syllable names like Jane Eyre suggest direct and well-grounded personalities while longer, multi-syllabic names like Anna Karenina and Armand Gamache are often associated with more complex personalities.

I have a personal preference for certain names, in particular the apostle names, Luke and Paul. Patricia Anderson, one of my readers, pointed out that I had used Paolo, Paula and Pauline for three characters in the novel. Definitely overkill. So, I changed Paula to Belinda and Pauline to Karen.

After the critique session, I decided to research the meaning behind the names of the five principal characters of A Season for Killing Blondes:

Gilda—golden (appropriate for a nineteen million dollar lottery winner)

Sofia—wisdom (questionable choice for the expedient cousin)

Carlo—warrior (works well for the chief detective)

Roberto—bright fame (suitable for the well known local lawyer)

Anna May– Anna means favored  by God and the middle name, May, is often used for girls born during the fifth month of the year.  (I might have to reconsider)

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5 responses to “Selecting the Right Character Name

  1. I believe the character name is very important, it not only makes them memorable to the reader but forms how the reader perceives them, I didn’t put Anime together when I read Anna May, however I’m not sure if my teen daughter would have the same reaction or not. I was so worked up about naming one of my main characters in my story the right name I spent several hours one night searching every database I could find for a name but nothing fit. I went to sleep that night and had a dream of the perfect name, I woke up and ran for my paper and pen before I forgot it, maybe all my mind needed was a jump start in the right direction. Thanks for sharing this Joanne, I really enjoyed reading it.

    • Good to know that you didn’t pick up on anime. I have written my WIP with female readers, aged forty and up so I think Anna May is safe enough. I can certainly empathize with your search for the right character name. How lovely to discover it in a dream! Thanks for dropping by, Carrie.

  2. Pingback: Character Names | timdesmondblog

  3. This caught my attention immediately. It is difficult to be completely original. One’s character name is really important. Part of the joy of writing fiction is that you can make things up …. that’s right, lies out of whole cloth…. and includes names of characters. At some time in the far past it was all right to use common names if your character was written to represent “everyman” or “everywoman.” So in English that would be John, French is Jaques, Spanish Jose, Irish Shaun, Scottish Sean, Russian Ivan or Ioann, Johannes or Hans in German, etc. the most common names in each culture. For our era, my protagonists need to be original and totally made up. My one exception is that I still like Biblical names that were not as commonly used. I could go on. Fascinating topic.

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