The Crime Readers' Association

Choosing Characters Names

13th December 2013 by in

Pauline Rowson

What’s in a name? A great deal claims crime author Pauline Rowson

Getting the right name for characters in a novel can be a tricky business. Sometimes they come to me completely out of the blue as I am creating a character, other times I will struggle to find the name that best suits that particular character and until I do the personality refuses to come fully alive.

I have always had this thing about people looking like their names.  When I’m introduced to someone I will think yes, you are a Jacqueline or a Malcolm. Other times I will think, oh no, you’re definitely a Karen or a Wayne. And so it is with the characters I am creating. The name has to fit. If it’s not right then the character isn’t right. The name also needs to fit with the age and nationality although you can have exceptions.

Readers often ask me where I get my characters names from.  When seeking inspiration for first names I turn to my little book of baby’s names or I will look up websites of baby’s names.  I also keep an ear out for any unusual or interesting names when meeting people and will jot these down.

Then the other danger is over using a name.  For some reason I seem to have a penchant for the name Eric, and when I did a search through previous novels found that I’d used it before for different characters, albeit minor ones. So no more Erics.

As to surnames, I let my finger do the choosing and tend to pick these out of an atlas or street map. Then I see if it fits with the first name and the character.  The more novels I write, (I’ve now written eleven) the more I am in danger of repeating names, (it’s easy to forget what you have already used) so I’m building a database in order to double check this.

Readers also tell me that some novelists have too many characters’ surnames all beginning with the same letter and they find this very confusing.  Now I scrutinise my work to check that not everyone has a surname beginning with the letter ‘C’.  Not sure why I gravitate towards ‘C’ but I do.  And my sister couldn’t get through Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code because she couldn’t pronounce the names, and not being able to pronounce the names meant she couldn’t identify and believe in the characters.  You might think that strange, but having raised the point at several talks, I’ve found many other readers echoing this sentiment.   So it’s careful with the foreign names for me.

And finally where did the name of my main character DI Andy Horton spring from?  I’ve no idea.  It just came to mind.  It was only recently however that I was contacted by his namesake in the Hampshire Police Force.   A polite e mail asked me whether he had inspired the name and/or the character.  I replied saying that if he was indeed tall, fair, fit and handsome then maybe?  He replied saying he was tall, fit, dark and his wife thought him handsome. I was somewhat relieved to find the real Inspector Houghton had a sense of humour and spelt his name differently.

Pauline Rowson is the author of the DI Andy Horton mystery series set in the Solent area on the South Coast of England. Her crime novels have received critical acclaim in both the UK and the USA.

For further information visit Pauline Rowson’s Official Website 

You can also follow Pauline Rowson on Twitter

Undercurrent, the ninth in the DI Andy Horton series, was published by Severn House in the UK and Commonwealth in January and in the USA on 1 May 2013.


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