By Anne R. Allen
“Agnes Gooch,” “Mr. McCawber,” “Albus Dumbledore”: memorable names of memorable characters.
How can writers come up with character names that readers will never forget?
In his painfully funny 2006 book, Famous Writing School, a Novel, Stephen Carter’s writing teacher-protagonist advises his students to seek character names in the obituaries. But although Carter’s bumbling protagonist offers mostly dubious advice, that tip is a keeper.
Obits are full of great names. I keep a list of odd names in a little notebook. I haven’t yet written about Normal Peasley or Lamia Trowbridge, but they’re ready when I need them.
Another great name source is spam. If I happen to catch a good name before I hit “empty spam,” I write it in the notebook. I can always perk up a story by subjecting my heroine to a blind date with Zoticus Weatherwax or Hassan Snively.
My name notebook is a useful source when I’m choosing the name of a murder victim or minor player in a story. I often choose the name and then write down a short character sketch of that person. That writing ritual of mine was featured as an exercise at the Reedsy blog last month.
Creative monikers don’t just add color and humor to storytelling. They help the reader keep track of a large cast, and offer a shorthand reminder of their identities.
Instead of calling the pizza delivery guy “Bob,” if you give him an interesting ethnicity, a cowboy hat and a name like “Galveston Ngyen,” readers will remember him when he shows up dead 50 pages later.