What’s In a Name?

What’s In a Name?

Choosing character names can be a significant task for an author. As I discovered, there are numerous lists of dos and don’ts.

Do’s include considering nationality, race, sex, timeframe, personality (never name a villain Timothy one writer warned) or style. Don’t include too many short names like Bob, Ed or Joe. Don’t repeat names starting with the same letter or that rhyme (Larry, Mary, Gary). And avoid names that are out of fashion (Gertrude), hard to pronounce (Eoghan), or iconic (Madonna).

As we all know, however, rules are meant to be broken. Here’s a couple of iconic names that work-Hannibal Lecter and Hieronymus Bosch.

For my latest suspense novel, Swimming with the Angels, I decided to purposely ignore all the rules. I chose to use alliteration like some families I know when naming children. I chose a friend’s family name of Van de Zilver for an area of the US inhabited by lots of Dutch farmers, and then named the father Virgil and the daughters Valerie and Vonda. I even had a character joke about their names in the book.

Second, I chose a nearly unpronounceable name for a nurse (Ximena) but included the pronunciation on the whiteboard (she-men-ah) in my protagonist’s hospital room.

Easter eggs refer to inside jokes or references that are sometimes found in movies, so I decided to use some names that family, friends and colleagues would recognize. Valerie Van de Zilver is a friend that

my family members instantly recognized. Catania, the name of an FBI agent, was recognized by my colleagues at work. Bob Hallonen was spotted by my wife’s friends as her ex-husband (which gave them a good laugh). And Mudiyam is the name of my wife’s former employer, friend and a prominent orthopedic surgeon.

To sum up, when writing fiction it helps to know the rules -- especially if you intend to break them.