I’ve been looking at books I’ve written over the years, and I’ve discovered I either have a very limited “name” vocabulary or I simply like certain names. Carl keeps showing up in my books. No, he’s not the same person. He’s never been a hero. (At least not as far as I can remember, and the memory is going.) And he’s never been a villain.
I also like the name Cody. Cody was a secondary character in one book and the hero in another. Again, just the name, not the same person. I like Shannon, too. Maybe because I have a niece named Shannon.
I remember with one book I was going to use the name Drew for the hero. A friend had a preschooler named Drew, and I thought it was a neat name. Drew only lasted for three chapters before I realized every time I typed that name, I thought of a little boy, not a grown, masculine man. So Drew became Parker in that story. (Drew did show up in another story, but that Drew was a drunken boor.)
The names we give our characters can have a strong influence on how we see them. I remember reading that names that had a harsh sound worked best for men we wanted to describe as strong, masculine, and heroic: Drake, Kurt, Parker, Jake, and so on. “Softer” names worked better as secondary character. Robert might be the hero while Bob might be a brother-in-law. Trevor might save the damsel in distress while Tim worked as a teller at the bank.
Elizabeth Sims wrote a good article on the 7 Rules for Picking Names for Fictional Characters Elizabeth Sims
Read her article, but simplified:
(1) Go to a baby naming book or something similar and see what the root meaning of the name is. Maris means “of the sea”
(2) Get your era right. Writers of historical fiction need to be careful not to use names that are too “modern.” Or, if they choose to use a name that wouldn’t be familiar at that time period, someone in the story certainly should comment on it. Names can hint at a time period. I’m working on a story idea where my main character is named Meadow Lark. I mentioned that to a friend, and she immediately said, “Were her parents Hippies?” (They were.)
(3) Read the name out loud. Have others say it. Are they reading it the way you meant it to sound?
(4) Don’t use names that are so similar that the reader might get confused. Was it Bonnie who owned the house or Bella or Beullah?
(5) Sometimes using the same initial for first and last name can give the name a musical sound and make it easy to remember. Or a name can amuse. I used to visit Dr. Bender, a chiropractor
(6) Make sure you’re not using the name of a person that might actually think it’s about him/her. Sometimes if a name sounds really familiar, it might be because you’ve heard it. If you think so, vary the name slightly.
(7) If you’re writing about a certain nationality, make sure the names you’re using would be correct for that nationality or the area of the country the family came from. If it’s different from what is normal, explain why.
As a writer, we can’t predict how a reader might react to a name, but I’ve found my reaction to a name is important for me as I write a story. The case with “Drew” proved that to me. However, I am going to have to come up with some new names for characters, especially my secondary characters. Carl is getting tired of showing up in all of my books.