Do you sometimes read the paper or watch the news and get a jolt when you hear someone’s name because it doesn’t seem to fit the person’s personality, appearance or job? This is because unlike fictional characters real people are given their names when they’re babies, long before anyone really knows whether or not their parents’ choice will be appropriate. I sometimes think it would be a lot better if everyone had the chance to select their name, like their career, when they are old enough, and wise enough, to know what would best suit them, rather than having to go through life with something cute or fleetingly fashionable.
Unlike parents, writers can choose names that fit the back-story of their characters; and if they don’t seem to fit as the work progresses then they can be changed. When I was writing ‘The Story Menders’ the characters and their names just popped into my head as if they already existed somewhere and were just waiting to have their story told. Even the inhabitants of Earth 6, whose names are related to the three languages spoken on that world seemed to evolve naturally without my having to think about them.
However, it isn’t always that easy. In the book I’m writing at the moment, which is a children’s novel about Lucy and her friends Ellie and Joe, I had to alter her brother’s name because it didn’t fit. I can’t explain why, but Brett, which was my first choice just didn’t feel right. I couldn’t make him behave or think or look like a Brett, but once he became Darren he blossomed, if you’ll excuse the cliché, and became the brother that Lucy needed.
The naming of parts in a novel is not just related to people. Place names are equally important, because they help the reader to imagine the setting for that part of the story. In ‘The Story Menders’ most of the places in London are real, although you won’t find an Oliver’s Passage off Lamb’s Conduit Street, or Cartwright Buildings or Clement Crossland publishers, and the alley at the back of Clement’s house in Canonbury doesn’t exist either. But you will find a Hinton Waldrist near Oxford, although it isn’t the Hinton Waldrist where Marcus Glendenning lives, because he lives in Earth 1 which is in a different dimension.
Sometimes place names relate to the function of that setting, such as the Forest of Fulfilled Dreams on Earth 6 where people are driven mad as their thoughts turn to nightmares, and the local inhabitants, the Dhonnae have evolved into camouflaged beings who take on the appearance of whatever or whoever is looking at them expects to see. This has both saved them from being eaten by the nightmarish creatures in the forest, and made them prisoners of their world, as once they leave they become featureless shadows.
I think choosing names for the characters and places is in many ways as important as developing the plot and the storyline. It doesn’t matter if the reader doesn’t have a detailed description of each character or place, but it is important that the name acts as a guide to how the writer wants them to be imagined.