Donna Rewolinski is the author of the Novice Mystery series. You can find out more about her on her website www.donnarewolinski.com, or by clicking here, read her last post here, and buy her books here.
What’s in a name? Everything to an author. We spend a great deal of time crafting a character’s name and their attributes. Are they male or female? Hair color, eye color, height, weight, past profession, current profession, and so on. But there is so much more.
Authors draw their characters on previous experiences with people or people they’d like to meet. They may choose one person or a combination of people to become a character. Naming that person is important and can take many forms. Some select a name that reflects an ethnicity, is fun to say, or easy to remember, but whatever the reason, characters are deeply personal to their author. We create them and put them out into the world for others to read about. We want to evoke a response for each one, whether it’s positive or negative.
Names such as Sherlock Holmes, Miss Jane Marple, Hercule Poirot, or Harry Potter, you realize they’re synonymous to their authors.
However, their attributes are equally as important. Jane Marple would never be found drunk or Hercule Poirot would never be a Nazi supporter. Harry Potter would never kill his friends to steal their powers or advance his. We come to know main characters through the story and develop a sense of them as a person. We look to have our characters grow or reveal something about themselves or their backstory as the plot(s) move forward. I know my favorites are personalities that I would like to be friends with or visit the places they do. When the story ends, I feel as if a friend has moved away and it maybe a while before I hear from them again, if ever.
The protagonist, whether a seasoned professional or an amateur that ends up in any situation, at the core of their being, is a good person trying to help.
As for the antagonist, they can be a cold hearted sociopath or psychopath with no redeeming qualities or can be like Ebenezer Scrooge. The name Scrooge can be used to describe someone that is stingy, cheap, and obsessed with money, yet in the end of Charles Dickens’ story reveals a change or rather the exposure of positive attributes of kindness and generosity.
How I name characters
The main characters in my Novice Mystery series are Dan and Karen Novice. First I looked for names that would be appropriate for their age and were popular at the time they were born. However, I like to use the meaning or origins of a name for anyone in my books.
I went through several versions of names.
Daniel means “God is my judge”. Dan’s attributes are that he’s honest, loyal, smart, and loves Karen deeply. He would never stab someone in the back or have an affair.
Karen means, “Pure” or “Clear”. Of course this was before the name Karen became associated with the meme of “Entitlement and demanding beyond the scope of what’s considered normal”. Karen loves Dan very much. Her mind works differently than Dan’s. She’s more in tune with people and has a different interpretation to a person or situation. Often she has the clear answer to what’s happened.
Most novels, especially mysteries are an ensemble of characters and what they bring to the story. Some are an aid, others a hindrance, or others trying to protect their secrets from be revealed.
Playing with the names
I love to play with names. Whether it’s various versions of people I know, such as in Novice Mystery – Mexico, the last name Carpenter is the anglicized version of Zimmerman, someone I know.
In my first book, Novice Mystery – Ireland, one of the characters is named Kathleen. She states that the victim’s first name is Arthur. In the book, Kathleen says, “Arthur is a British name, meaning “Strong as a bear’. I think he was a bear, not to consider other’s feelings.” It’s an emotional outburst. Was his name the cause of his demise? Could be or it could be a ‘red herring’ to lead the reader to draw a conclusion.
My upcoming novel, Novice Mystery – France, I name a character Honore, but will he live up to the name and be honorable? That remains to be seen.
Also, important are the inanimate characters in a novel. It can be a food, a beverage, or a place, real or invented. When I read the Louise Penny, Chief Inspector Gamache novels, I want to sit in Oliver’s Bistro in the fictious village of Three Pines, in front of the roaring fire on a cold, winter’s day, and eating what’s offered on the menu. I even want a licorice pipe and I don’t like the taste of licorice. That town, those businesses, and the products they offer are characters that envelop us in the story. They’re as important and require as much effort on the part of the author to make them real, have a name, and be as inviting as the human ones. Authors put much thought into naming all characters, who they are, who they become, where they are, and why we should be interested in any of it. The worst novels are those when at the end, I don’t remember it.
There’s everything in a name to an author.