Sunday, February 23, 2014

What's in a Name?

Like many first-time authors, I'm caught in the middle of two pulls. The excitement of landing a publishing contract and launching a writing career wrestles with the fear of remaining anonymous, the fear that none will read my novel. Though the book hasn't even been published, with a website in my name and increasing social media presence I decided to Google search myself. I was surprised.

Who am I?
I showed up on the list, and my site was there as well, albeit number seven. The first hit was for a Chris Mannino who had died ( without typing Christopher- brings you to a memorial website) then there was an agent in Tennessee, a doctor with malpractice charges, and on and on... All this under a selection of mug-shot images, none of which was a picture of me.  My name is a common one, not a name I chose myself of course, but still I found this slightly disturbing. How can I make a name for myself, when I don't even have exclusive use of my own name?
I then started thinking less about my own name, and more about my characters. I;m not going to change my name, but every character name is completely up to me. In my first (unpublished) novel, I spent weeks and weeks agonizing over the perfect names.  In my earliest drafts, characters would talk to NAME1 or NAME2, since I couldn't bear to label any of the figures permanently.  

In School of Deaths, the main character was originally Billy Black. Black is a color associated with death and darkness, and I liked the alliteration. Billy is a name for a kid, a fun name. Then I switched the novel so it was told from a girl's perspective. I'm not completely sure where Suzie Sarnio emerged from as a name, perhaps a tribute to my own Italian heritage. 

Sometimes naming a character appropriately can be strange. In School of Deaths, a minor character is a figure called Athanasius. Athanasius is a goat-like figure who welcomes Suzie to the College of Deaths. His eyes are yellow like a lizard's, his face and hands look like a goat. He is the first Elemental Suzie meets; the Elementals are one of the major species in my world. After naming him, I went to see an eye specialist. The doctor's name, as he greeted me, was Athanasius. As the ophthalmologist examined me, I couldn't help but envision a pair of yellow lizard eyes staring at me, and hands like a goat's....

How do you name characters?  


  1. Interesting post, Chris. I've never agonized over a character name. It seems like the first one that pops into my mind is usually the one I stick with, probably because it sounds more natural that way.

  2. That is one crazy story!(And funny too!)
    I too agonize over my character's names -- for some of them, I think I gave more thought than my own kids'.
    Depending on the story, I'll often give my characters a name that hints at their personality/attributes.