By English Rose (aka Jill McDonald-Constable)
How do you decide on the names for your heroes and heroines?
Do they come from real people? Places you know? Or are they made up. Then again, perhaps they are seated deep in your subconscious, originating from films you have seen or books you have read? Do certain names ‘belong’ to certain parts of the country? Do they tell us of the trade that person is involved in?
For example, with surnames in particular, here in UK if you have the name Jones or Williams, it’s a fair bet that your family is, or was, Welsh. The name Alexander, and names beginning with Mc, are usually Scottish. Sometimes the area of a name is even smaller.
Using my own family as an example, up in Yorkshire is a village called Wolstenholme, and that was also my father’s surname. Looking at it, the name could almost be German, and that caused some problems when Mum and Dad wanted to marry in 1947. After I was born (by C section), and while Mum was still in hospital, she was often asked if Dad was German. It was 1948, and of course the War was still foremost in people’s minds. I don’t know what they would have done had she said yes!
Have you had a character with a similar problem?
I have noticed that a lot of Cowboy heroes take their first names from of States or towns in America, think Cheyenne, Tulsa, Laredo, etc. I don’t think we have any such ‘Romantic’ sounding names here in UK! How about a hero called Accrington, Yorkshire, Salford, or Great Harwood! I don’t think so, do you!
Although, we do have a seaside town here called Scarborough. For a short time, I went to school with a boy whose parents had called him after that town, because he’d been conceived there! He hated it, and we all called him ‘Scar’, which, of course, his parents hated. Would the name ‘Scar’ be a ‘goody’ or a ‘baddy’, do you think? I think he was my first ‘crush’ actually, although I believe it was because his name sounded so – well, so ‘exotic’ to us then.
Of course with the shrinking of our world, names can move quickly from one country to another much faster than ever before, so a name which used to be common only in one small area of a country, can now be found world-wide.
As many of you will know, many surnames were originally associated with the trade carried out by a person many centuries ago. For instance, Smith, Baker, Butcher, Fletcher, these are all old trades, and before names were set in stone, a person would be named for his trade. That could be a lot more difficult to do these days, what name would you give to a computer engineer, or a lift operator, or fighter pilot? Or even a Cowboy? ‘Jack Cowboy’ or ‘Peter Fighter Pilot’ just don’t have the right ‘ring’ to them do they?
Characters from books and films who we ‘feel for’ at the time, can also root themselves deep in our brains, and we can find ourselves drifting towards those ‘familiar’ names for our characters, as well as drifting away from the names of those characters we didn’t like! As a young teen, in common with millions of other young girls all over the civilized world, I was mad about ‘Little Joe’ of Bonanza fame! Now, I won’t call any of my cowboy heroes Joe, none of them would match up, in my mind, to his character. Equally, (and I do apologize to their fans out there in advance) I was never keen on Clint Walker or Clint Eastwood, so none of my heroes are named Clint.
Names are vitally important in creating our characters of course, as we need to be able to ‘visualize’ that person whilst reading about them. Think of your favourite Romantic hero, give him a different name; now how do you feel? Could you imagine if the dark and brooding Heathcliffe had been named Fred? Or if his Kathy had been called Susan. What if Mr Darcy had actually been Mr Bloggs? Who would swoon over him then? And, following on from a recent post, would it have stuck in our minds for as long as it has, if the hero of the film ‘Shane’ had been called ‘Archibald’? “Come back, Archibald” doesn’t have quite the same impact does it?
Are there any Cowboy heroes with names like that? Or Algernon, Harold, Jeremy, Herbert, no, usually their names are strong, to match the men!
Lately I have been guilty of using ‘favourite’ names, to the extent that, I realized this week, I have both a Cowboy hero and a Contemporary hero with the same name, Jake, why I hadn’t actually noticed that before now, I don’t know. Okay, it won’t be a problem, as they are different genres, and very different looking characters, but maybe I should change one of them? Does that happen to you?
Of course, each of us has a different ‘view’ of the character from their name; I suppose we overlay our own personal heroes and heroines onto the ones we are reading about? The author can assist us in visualising the character, by sketching out a brief description, hair color and length, eye color, build etc. In the end though, it’s our subconscious that puts the finishing touches to the person, and comes up with a swoon-worthy hero, or strongly independent heroine. Give the same story to 100 people and ask them to draw the main character, I bet you’d get 100 different pictures!
As for the ‘made-up’ names, well there must be as many ways of making them up, as there are people on the planet! I use a variety of ways myself, and sometimes they just ‘come’ to me and seem to fit the character at the time. I do like it when we are ‘given’ characters, and names. When they just come in to our heads from somewhere, they are usually the best ones!
I would love to hear your name stories, how do you decide on your main characters. If you are a prolific writer, how on earth do you come up with so many names all the time? And should I change the name of one of my two Jakes?
Thank you for stopping by. X
Leroy Vance is a hard-hearted bounty hunter, hot on the heels of a gang of outlaws, when he gets his horse shot out from under him. Injured, and on foot, in the wide flat lands, Vance faces almost certain death. Help comes in the form of a buggy driven by two foreigners, father and son. They take him to the nearest town, and drive off without a word. When he eventually tries to buy a new horse, Vance is directed to the ranch owned by the foreigners. There, he finds some excellent stock. But the ranch holds a secret. The foreigners don't train the horses themselves; that is done by the wife of the younger man, and her little brother, who are both abused and beaten by the men. Vance swears to rescue the woman and boy. But Fate has a few tricks up her sleeve, and a lot can change in a short time. Vance falls in love with the man's wife as he helps them to escape. But with her husband hot on their heels, will the trio escape? And will Leroy Vance, bounty hunter and sinner, finally find True Love with the wife of another man?
On the web: WomanWhoLeads.webs.com
Also writing as Amos Carr:
The Ghosts of Poynter (Robert Hale, London, 2012)
Crazy Man Cade (Robert Hale, London, 2012)