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The Name Game

The other day we were discussing possible names for a friend’s baby. (Among the suggestions were Pegasus Sailor, Aubergine, and my favourite, Al Pacino Cappucino). I got to thinking (as they say) about names for characters in books.

This might sound obvious, but the main thing when choosing a name is to bear in mind the character’s age and background. If it’s a woman who grew up in the East End of London in the 1930s, Nancy or Betty is probably more appropriate than Summer or Raven. One of the many ridiculous things about the film Far and Away is that the heroine, a well-to-do Irish girl in the 19th century, is called Shannon. That’s a river! She would have been called Mary or Catherine and liked it.

Shannon was shocked to find that her name was a total anachronism

So, be aware of trends in names, even if (especially if) you are naming someone of another nationality. A young French person today would not be called Gaston or Nicole, those are really old-fashioned (unless maybe they’re retro now). A name can tell you about someone’s family – who named the character? Was it a family name? In The Out of Office Girl, Marisa’s female relatives are all called variations of the name Maria Santa, which is a name that’s popular in Sicily. (Fun fact: my Italian publishers, who are based in Milan, couldn’t believe that this was a real Italian name so they changed it to Maria Santina).

Also, don’t be afraid to change a character’s name. Luther, in The Out of Office Girl, was originally called Jake. I decided to change it quite late in the day, when I went to the library to stock up on chick lit and noticed how many of them had heroes called Jake. I spent ages trying to think of a cool name that could work for a film star, before I remembered meeting a guy called Luther, from Corpus Christi, Texas. Sam was also originally called Ryan. Now I don’t know what I was thinking: Ryan? Ugh. Alice was always Alice – to me it’s a real innocent English rose name, and it also has connotations of a character who enters a crazy wonderland (as Alice does).

For If I Could Turn Back Time, I chose Zoe because the Z was quirky and different. Zoe also means life, and she’s a very vital, lively character. David Fitzgerald was a no-brainer. Fitzgerald is quite a posh Irish name, and if you were a boy born in Dublin between 1975 and 1985, you had a 70% chance of being called David or Brian – and I’m not sure Brian is a romantic hero’s name. Any more than Nigel, Graham or Derek. These trends might change though, I’d love to read about a romantic hero called Derek.

If you want more inspiration, is a brilliant website with everything from unisex names to cowboy names. And you’ve never played the Name Game (top) try it. Mine is Nicola Nicola Bobicola Banana Fana Fo Ficola, Me Mi Mo Micola – Nicola!

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