The Importance of Names

Inspired to get back into writing by my dear friend, Kenny, who is himself embarking on an online journey of his own, I’ve been thinking about character names. The power of names and how they can define a character without ever having to describe the person. This is achieved by what one mentor, whose classes I took, said is the power name. A name made up of a first and last name that instantly tells a reader, oh, here’s a hero-type.

What you’re looking for is a combination of first and last name that give a lasting impression. So someone whose last name is Major sounds far more impressive than Smith or Jones. Pete Smith sounds as generic as they come, as does Deirdre Jones. Which are great names if you are looking for background characters, or someone’s best friend, sister, or cousin.

Of course, coming up with a ‘power’ names is all well and good, as is trying to nail down a title for your novel. But that’s a whole other post. Getting your character’s names to reflect who they are, isn’t always that easy. Oft times a name you might pick has already been taken, and used to good effect elsewhere. We’re all familiar with lots of well know novels featuring very distinctive characters, so to call your character Scarlet O’Hara is asking for trouble unless, that is, you are trying to say, here, look, this woman is the epitome of Scarlet from Gone With The Wind.

Most authors want to avoid the use of a too familiar name, or even, a name of someone real and still alive. I mean, do you want to call a character Donald Trump in today’s climate? You’re very likely to be dragged through litigation of some kind by the, eh, real Donald Trump.

And so it is, I’ve only just begun to plot out and put together my novel and already I’m started to hit a number of speed bumps. I want to set the novel here, in the province of Québec—specifically here in Québec City. Which means my characters need to sound genuine enough to be acceptable, never mind looking for a ‘power’ name for my main protagonist that will ring true.

Tramblay here is the equivalent of Smith in the UK, so Jean Tramblay is about as generic as you can get. And while Jean Tramblay might sound exotic to an outsider, anyone living here would think I’m talking about the clerk at the bank, or the guy that bags groceries.

Meanwhile, I’m thinking, Lucien Bouchard is a great name for a lead character. That said, however, he was also the Prime Minister of Québec and is still alive. That may be a little difficult to pull off.

Hmm…I think this is going to be a little more problematic than I first thought.

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