The naming of characters

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Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
Character names often outshine the titles of novels, lodging in readers' minds and entering popular culture as nouns, a shorthand way of describing an acquaintance, such as Tarzan, Sherlock, Gandalf, Hermione or The Wicked Witch.

I'm currently reading James Lee Burke's latest novel The Jealous Kind, whose protagonist is distinctly named Aaron Holland Broussard. He's the grandson of Hackberry Holland who featured in four of Burke's thirty-six novels.

I try to make my fictional character's names memorable and am blessed that Cornwall, where my detective stories are set, has a rich array of unusual family names from its Celtic roots.

Thus, I called the owner of a chain of massage parlours Caradoc Honeycombe, which suited his gelatinous nature. Gordon Honeycombe was a popular British newsreader in the 1970s and 1980s, who organised a get-together of 160 members of the Honeycombe clan in 1984. There are 350 Honeycombes worldwide, all descended from one man called Matthew Honeycombe, who lived in the Cornish moorland village of Saint Cleer 350 years ago. Caradoc was a Knight of the Round Table during Uther Pendragon's time.

Other character names include:

*Cleaver— for a heavily-scarred bodyguard who favours blades.

*Noah and Nina Shrike—ex-secret agents, who turn out to be cannibals. A shrike is also known as a butcher bird, as it stores dead prey on spiked vegetation.


*Luna Moth—a massage therapist from Vietnam, who has a large tattoo of this green-winged insect on her back.

*The Watcher—the title given to a sniper by his comrades in the Croatian War of Independence. He was turned into a killing machine by his traumatic experiences as a boy soldier, sating his bloodlust in peace time by playing a real-life murderous role-play game. I didn't mention his original family name; he'd dissociated from his origins.

*Esau Tregenza—a reclusive farmer whose mummified body is found in the kitchen of his remote farm, where it has been sitting for five years. A staunch Methodist, all of his ancestors were named after characters from the Bible.

*Tabitha Anstock-Struthers—Devon & Cornwall Police Authority's press officer. More of a spin doctor, she has the soul of a cyborg.

Some of the names I use hint at the personalities of my heroes and villains, and there's research evidence that how we're named affects out entire lives:

The Name Game: how names spell success in life and love

Have you invented any memorable fictional character names?
My current WIP has a character named Sparklebottom Brisket. :) Which isn't so outlandish considering that I know a woman named Apple Snyder, and occasionally teach a girl named Purgatory. o_O It is a MG novel, though, so I'm allowed silly names.
Not especially memorable, but I've gone for names vaguely suggestive of the personality or origins.
Sunny (Lysander) Adam.
His grandmother, aka Gan. Elizabeth Adam (Anglo-Irish)
His deceased grandfather (Born Trinidad, Hilton Joseph)
Petra, self reliant possible love interest, steady as a rock.
Kathleen Milton, medium, deceased (Paradise Lost) who bequeaths Sunny her cat ordinary cat, he will ultimately prove his name.
Rev John Theobald (to suit his calling, even if he has a distinctly pagan sensibility and has, he says, mislaid God like an old sock)
Jimbo aka The Human Lamp-Post - police colleague
Superintendent Thomas, aka 'Old Marmite' because he has a thing about....and did have before a certain recent furore
Sabra/Hafren...romanised as Sabrina, Severina, spirit of the Severn- mythological figure, the name already existed
Sergeant Stan Pigeon, 'mean and lardy- jowled human sky-rat', hates anything that isn't pie.
Truth is often stranger than fiction. In my life, I've known a Ted Ramsbottom...who had a flushed complexion from too much alcohol and a protruding nose covered in warts!

I went to school with Rob Fuke—whose resiliance to teasing was inspirational.

Malcolm Mould was equally thick-skinned.
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Podcast: The M Word (Book Marketing)

Music hath charms to soothe...