Naming Characters: The Gory Details.

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A novelist usually adds a disclaimer to the book, to the effect that this work of fiction in no way represents real people, but a coincidence associated with naming characters can get too close for comfort.

At about 65,000 words into writing Irish Firebrands, I had to give the names of the male main character and a significant secondary to minor characters, because that’s when I stumbled across the recent obituaries of two real persons whom I’d never known existed: one possessed the surname I’d given to the main character, and the other had the forename I’d given to the secondary. Moreover, the real persons had had the very same occupations as my fictional characters, and both had achieved regional fame during their lives. I was determined not to change my characters’ careers, so the names had to go.

Then, providentially, I ran across an interesting historical personage (long since dead) whose last name I attached to the male MC for his given name, because the rationale for the character’s being named after the historical person would provide a future plot twist. I also found an ancient Irish surname with an intriguing history to it, which provided another plot twist (one that I hope to develop into another book). I gave that last name to the male MC, too.

I realized early that the first name for the female MC had to begin with “L”. Nothing else would do for her, but I had no idea what her name was supposed to be. I tried several “L” names before settling on one that, much later on, I discovered doesn’t appear in the US Social Security Administration’s list of the 100 most popular names for the year she was born. I guess she knew she was unique.

Learning about DNA studies that have been done in Ireland and Scandinavia confirmed my choices of surnames for the female MC and an important female secondary character. The DNA research also suggested another future story line.

Finally, I wanted a mix of Gaeilge, Hiberno-English and Anglo-English names for the other characters. That took a bit of research to find some that I liked, to decide on which spelling I wanted to use (the spelling of ethnic Irish names is still fluid), and then I had to shuffle them around to get them attached to the proper persons. It was interesting to discover that a meaning which is sometimes attributed to one of the surnames was appropriate for the character I chose to bear that name.

All this may seem to be a dreadfully complicated process to go through for one’s imaginary friends: Daphne DuMaurier never named the protagonist of Rebecca. And I went through my fourth pregnancy and childbirth without a clue as to what to name the child, until many hours after I finally met him!

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Naming Characters: The Gory Details.

  1. Whoah, see, I think I am trying a bit of the same thing with a name I have picked for Chief Inspector Archer that will make sense once he plays out his entire storyline in this next book. Sounds like a lot of research, which is of infinite interest to me – I love that kind of planning. Nice post and thanks for the links back!

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