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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