Part of the process of bringing new or temporary characters into an existing series is to give them a name. It seems that I naturally fall into wanting to name every male Michael. There is a Father Michael in my Cin Fin-Lathen Mysteries, a Mike Dupree in the Haunted Series, and let us not forget Saint Michael. In Restitution, I include a meta moment highlighting that another Michael is being introduced; Mia, when she finds out the name of the archangel she is addressing, remarks, “It would be, wouldn’t it?” This was intended to make my editor laugh. She fights the war so I don’t reuse names and possibly confuse the reader.
I have written, in the Haunted Series alone, over 350 characters, and these are characters I have to keep listed because they play an important part in the story I’m writing. I have an Excel program to keep track of them. After each book I’m supposed to add to the list. I’m a few books behind, oy.
Some authors have a neat trick of putting a place holder in for a name so the muse isn’t interrupted. They go back and fill in the names later. This is very difficult for me. Once I have the character, they start to live in my mind. It’s difficult to bring fill-in-name to life. I have a list my older sister gave me as a gift one year of male and female names of different nationalities, and I check them off as I use them. This helps for minor characters, but for major characters, I research the name. What does it mean? Was it popular in the era in which the person was born? For example, I’m not going to name a nineteenth century ghost Kayla or Jayden. Also, since my setting is the Midwestern United States, I’m going to pick surnames of people who have settled here. Thank goodness that the Chicago area is diverse, but in Murphy’s day, his neighbors were mostly Irish, German and Italian.
I do tend to fall back on my experience when naming someone. I ask myself, would a Monica behave this way? I know it’s silly, but I have heard from a lot of people who work in Human Resource departments of major companies that they have to fight the urge not to hire someone because “all so-and-sos” act this way in their experience.
So far I have only used one name of a real person that I know, Jake. Jake is the ghost in the PEEPs computer. The real Jake is a good friend of my son’s. It’s not his given name but his nickname.
For those of you who are a parent or have pets, you know how hard it is to find the perfect name. Now multiply this by 350, and you will have one of the reasons it may take me a while to write a book.
Have I ever reused names? Sure, if it’s a minor character who doesn’t have a speaking role. I try not to, but it does happen. For those who have read the series more than once, you have noticed that Ted and Whitney have the same last name. Was this intentional? Nope. Why didn’t I change it? Because we all know a few people with the same last names who aren’t related.
What does a name mean to you? What criteria do you use to choose one?