Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Any Other Name?

Congratulations to "Pam", the winner in Ellis's giveaway. Thank you to all who participated.

How important are characters' names to you? Do you try them out to see how they fit the way you do with a puppy? Or does the name come to you first?

For me, it's both. Sometimes a name comes and the character shows up with it, like Spontana Peigh. She's an elderly lady who lives in one of my short stories. Or Maeva Deane, Bertie Gilchrist's sister. Somehow I feel freer to give in to my eccentricities in short stories. Of course not everyone's name is unusual, and I'd keep the odd ones to a minimum in a book.

In my novels (at least to my mind), the name has to fit the personality. The most famous example I know of is Margaret Mitchell's Scarlett O'Hara. Right up till printing time, Ms. Mitchell called her Pansy. If there was ever a woman who wasn't a Pansy, it was Scarlett—a perfect name.
How do you name your characters? Do you research popular names of the period? Use friends' names? Family names? What are some that particularly appeal to you? Which ones stand out from books you've written or read?

One thing I've realized is if the name is too odd or causes people to stumble over it, it distracts them from the story. I named a woman Noel after a lovely woman I knew in my childhood. I'm from the South, land of a confusion of given and surnames, variations on words, all kinds of things. However, three friends stumbled over it and tried to correct the name to Noelle. This lady was not a Noelle. So I changed it several times till I settled on something that fit; she's now Claire, the heroine of Cold Comfort.

I'm giving away an eBook of COLD COMFORT in your choice of format, or in the US, a trade paperback.

This is the scene where Riley first sees Claire. Do you think her name fits?

Through the branches of a tree, he studied her. Wavy, nut-brown hair in a loose knot on top of her head, almost a Gibson girl style, emphasized her gentle, somewhat old-fashioned look. The knot listed to the left and a few strands hung loose. Must be a bad day—that he could understand. The woman fit the voice. If this represented Claire Spencer's life, maybe she'd magnified a common robbery into an attack by a stalker to add a little excitement. She could have done the doll too, just to jack up the stakes.
He didn't expect to like her, and he was damn sure she wouldn't like him.
Then one kid pushed another, and a shoving match began. The ladylike Miss Spencer surprised him with the no-nonsense tone of a nun. "Boys! Sit down and behave. You know the rules." She turned toward Riley and smiled. "Two strikes and you're out."
Busted. He nodded and turned away, pretending to examine the contents of a basket.
"May I help you find something?" She appeared at his elbow, wearing a solemn expression.
"Uh, yes. I'm trying to find something for my nephew." He looked down at her. Clear ivory skin with a hint of pink in her cheeks, eyes like a bright October sky. Although she wasn't classically beautiful, her coloring would have made Botticelli weep. If he were a portrait painter…

Giveaway ends 11:59pm EST July 26th. Please supply your email in the post. You may use spaces or full text for security. (ex. jsmith at gmail dot com) If you do not wish to supply your email, or have trouble posting, please email with a subject title of JRS GIVEAWAY to be entered in the current giveaway. 


  1. Names are the hardest. A character must fit the name and vice-versa. I once wanted to change a character's name because it was similar to another character in the book. I couldn't. She was Lucy, and that was that. I couldn't change Luke either. So I committed the egregious sin of having two characters with similar names, but it couldn't be helped. They were Luke and Lucy.

  2. Polly, at least with clear-cut genders, it's not so confusing. Same sex and similar names can be tough, but Luke is the main man and hard to confuse with anyone. He stands out. :-)

  3. Nice post Ellis, I gave characters names by their characteristics and then translated them into another language or two. The fearful judge is named Judge Peur, French for afraid.
    Una Tiers

  4. Hi

    Great post. As a reader I find that names are important and can make the reading experience so much fun. When a name is hard to pronounce I find that I skip over it while reading and if someone asks me about the characters I laugh at myself because I butcher the name.

    I think the name Claire fits your character when I read the excerpt above and the blurb from the link.

    Thanks for the chance

  5. Fascinating post. This may sound crazy, but It never occurred to me to make a character fit his or her name—probably because I don't fit mine. Declan, Vivienne, Ephraim, Mendel, and Josefina all arrived in my head fully formed with names intact. Come to think of it, I usually have at least one character who grapples with a "name issue." I suppose it can be chalked up to writing what I know. :)

  6. My protagonist in my diplomatic mystery series, Robbie Cutler, which starts with "Vintage Murder," has a combination of family names - Robbie from my side of the family, and Cutler was the maiden name of my Mother-in-law. His Uncle Seth is everyone's favorite character - I had an Uncle Seth, and that's my middle name. I have lots of fun with villainous names - Dorlot, I thought, was sufficiently dark to conjure up a French collaborator!The interesting thing is that characters within the story now have their own logic. Robbie and his wife Sylvie are expecting their first child in "Murder In Dordogne." When she arrives, she will be Katherine - the name of Uncle Seth's long lost fiancee. And so the characters go, creating their own logic!! Sometimes I think I'm taking mental dictation from the characters!!

  7. I really enjoyed you post, Ellis, and am looking forward to reading Cold Comfort. And, Polly, I know the feeling of having the two lead character's names similar or starting with the same letter and knowing one of them should be changed. But if they came to life with their name and have lived through zillions of drafts (like Brandy and Blade in my WIP, it's impossible, at least for me, to change their names. Villains are another animal. In Shadow of Deceit my bad guy's name changed after I decided the original was too cliche. :)

  8. Cold Comfort sounds like a great read and Claire fits her so much better than Noelle. I had names as I thought up my characters, except this last one. I've changed her name three times because of the story line. She is a kick ass agent who you think is a guy for the first chapter, so I'm struggeling to find a female name with a male nick name that goes with it.
    Great post and thanks for sharing.

  9. Would love a NOOK copy, pick me please.

  10. I wanted to have a laid back, romantic detective, and his cultural background was Italian and German, so I named him Dante Moser.

  11. Cold Comfort sounds like a great book! Love your thoughts on names of characters!

  12. thanks for the chance would love that trade book

  13. Viva, Usually when the name comes first, like Spontana Peigh, the character is only a step behind. It's when I have to change a name that I have problems. I went through many with my WIP, but nothing fit until I finally hit on Alex. She's firmly fixed, and very clear to me.

    Pam, I have the same problem with names I can't pronounce. SciFi often gives me a problem. I say make it pronounceable or give the reader a rhyme or something to go on.

  14. William, I like the names in your Diplomatic Mystery series. They fit well, to my ear. And you're right--Uncle Seth is a favorite.

    Mal, it's true names can be cliches. You're good to recognize it and make the change. Brandy and Blade have different enough sounds, especially if they're F&M. I could keep them straight. :-)

  15. Lynda, I can think many. I rather like the British way of shortening the name and adding an S. Julie-Jules, Millie-Mills, Margaret-Mags, Charlotte-Charlie/Chas, Andrea-Andie, and so on. I hope you find one that fits. It's a challenge.

    Judith, Dante Moser is a great name, memorable and very visual. I really like it!

  16. Thank you all for the comments. It's always fun to hear other people's ideas. I'll be happy to make the giveaway Nook, trade, Kindle or Smashwords.

  17. Looking forward to reading "Cold Comfort." Sometimes I meet people and immediately think how their names fit them and sometimes it's the opposite.
    janie1215 AT excite DOT com

  18. As a reader, I do like names that fit characters more than the name themselves. If I am not sure how to pronounce a name I go online and google it. For example, I read a story with the name "Rhys" as the hero. I didn't know if it was like "Reece" or "Rice". Found out online it is "Reece". Once I figured that out it fit him and I didn't stumble over it. I can't imagine writing and coming up with names of people that don't remind you of someone you are friends with or family members, etc. I thought it was interesting when Maureen Miller told me once a reader said they didn't like her use of a name in one of her books since it reminded them of food. I think overall, authors do a great job for the names of their characters. Thanks for the post!

  19. Jane, I wonder how much we're influenced by knowing someone with the same name. But some names do seem to fit especially well. I like that too. I hope you'll like Riley. He could never be anything else in my mind.

    Amy, I love the name Rhys and would love to use it sometime. I learned it from the big Welsh actor who played Gimili the dwarf in Lord of the Rings. I think his name is John Rhys Davies. That's when I looked up Rhys--I wasn't sure either. And then there's the great mystery writer Rhys Bowen. I'd love to use the name sometime. It could be male or female.

    Thanks for your comments.

  20. Enjoyed reading your post on naming charactrs. I've never come across a name I disliked. For me the author's descriptions of the characters allow me to picture them as I read.

    jtcgc at yahoo dot com

  21. The characters in any books/stories must have the right names. It makes all the difference. Looking forward in reading Cold Comfort.


  22. I would love to have Cold Comfort book by Ellis Vidler
    thank you for this awesome giveaway :)

  23. Names are important to me. I prefer unusual names but I think Claire is perfect for this character.

    lag110 at mchsi dot com

  24. MaryC, you've made me think about that. It's a tribute to an author if she or he can sell you on the name and convince you it fits, no matter what it is.

    Thanks Kai and Lag and Anonymous for stopping to comment.

  25. Names are very important. It's usually the first thing I have firm when starting a story. I tend to stay with the same letters for some reason. I like names that start with A, B, M, and J. It's weird but for some reason I gravitate toward them.
    Would love to have a copy of Cold Comfort. danao(dot)b7(at)gmail(dot)com

  26. Nice interview and excerpt. I think the names fit.


  27. I really like your "title" 'Cold Comfort'.
    Please enter me in your draw.



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