I love naming characters. Heck, I love just naming things. Anything. I named my backpacks when I was travelling (yes, plural – I went through a couple) and I name most things I use on a day-to-day basis. I have a particular fondness for slightly unusual names, but I rarely make up names or spelling because … well, that’s a different rant.
When it comes to naming characters I tend to choose names that are “favourites”. I have never used names like Jessica or Kyle, but Lachlan makes frequent appearances in my stories. When writing for my cousins, their names feature prominently, of course, and when writing nonsense stories in my head I like to come up with odd combinations, like Destiny Jones.
Naming characters is an art. I use baby name books (and the fabulous baby name website) to ensure my characters have meaningful names and I often use the name meanings as inspiration for characterisation. There are clichés like calling a character Blaze and having him develop fire-throwing powers, but you could use Aidan (meaning “Little Fire”) instead. A simple example, but names can be especially important – especially if your reader is anything like me.
I churn through novel after novel and I often don’t remember names despite remembering detailed scenes. “Weird wizard guy blasted the hot wizard and I thought it was ridiculous until the hot guy made that crazy proclamation and I could finally relate to the weird guy because the narrative took a turn in perspective.” That’s not an uncommon response from me. I will remember, in detail, metaphors and symbols from novels. I’ll remember the denouement of novels read several years ago, but damned if I can remember the protagonist’s name. Or the book’s name, for that matter (thus I’ve started writing a list to aid my memory). I read The Hunger Games trilogy and loved it, and I loved when whatsherface took her sister’s place because I could wholly and completely understand her motivation, the reasons for her wanting to protect her family, yet still could not tell you whatsherface’s name. Kitty? Tilly? Oh, Katniss. Thanks, Google.
I was always terrible with remembering names, even when I was a teacher. Despite being able to name every person in my office now (and there are over 40), I maintain that I am still terrible with names and only remember them because it’s part of my job. Is it, then, a part of my job – as a reader – to remember characters’ names? Or is remembering what they did and why they did it enough?