As soon as you start writing you learn one important thing.
You need names.
Lots of them.
Every character you create needs one. Every place you describe — if it doesn’t actually exist — needs one too. As a result, stories eat names. Books eat lots of names.
And they have to be good names. Apt names. Fitting names.
So, today as I was writing, I needed a new name for a major character. I sat there typing out names, but none of them fit. I deleted and tried again too many times, but for some reason I just couldn’t find one that worked. I started thinking about how, as authors, we ever find names that fit. For the first time in a long while I found myself considering how I come up with the character names I populate my stories with.
And I realised that I’m really not sure.
Sure, for some particular characters I can reconstruct the precise reason I chose their handles. (Warning: this could become nerdy and borderline crazy.) Kyle Straker, from 0.4/Human.4, got his from a few different sources. A very early (unpublished) novel I wrote had a character called Kyle Saxon, and though the majority of that work has since been junked and has biodegraded back into my mind, the character name kind of stuck with me. I don’t know why it stuck. I guess there was just something pleasing about its structure, its rhythm. So that was the name I had in my mind when I was planning 0.4.
But it wasn’t the name I gave him when I started the actual writing.
Because my brain changed it at the last possible moment. It substituted ‘Straker’ for ‘Saxon’ when I typed it out the first time. I nodded approval and kept it. It just sounded better to me. And, I realised later, it sounded better because it served another purpose: it referenced a television programme that I had loved when I was about Kyle’s age. Gerry Anderson’s UFO had a character called Commander Edward Straker. Played by the wonderful Ed Bishop, Straker was head of a task force that protected the world from alien invaders. That extra resonance had caused the name change. By the time I’d written the first few chapters, I couldn’t imagine that Kyle could have existed with any other name.
Kyle lived in Millgrove, a place that doesn’t exist. The village itself is a slightly manipulated version of somewhere I lived when I was knee high to a mutant grasshopper, and where I went to my infant and junior schools – Brampton, near Huntingdon. The first time I needed to identify it I chose Millgrove, which – for some reason – sounded perfect to me. It wasn’t until I written it a few times that I realised where my brain had dredged it up from.
Orson Welles’ radio version of ‘War of the Worlds’.
The Martians’ first landing on earth was at Grover’s Mill – a location that the radio play’s author, Howard E. Koch chose by jabbing a pencil into a map.
When I came to write the sequel, the sf referencing continued, albeit a little more considered. Peter Vincent seemed the perfect name for my new protagonist, because it was not only a compound of two other great sf characters (Peter Bishop from Fringe, and David Vincent from The Invaders) but provided a link back to the name of the 1st book’s protagonist that was invisible to just about anyone else in the world but me. (I may have dropped the ‘Bishop’ part from Peter’s name, but it was still there for me, silent, and it referenced the actor who played Straker in UFO).
These names are easy to track. I know how they came about. Others I’m not so sure about. They resonate for me, sure, but I’m not always certain why or how. It’s enough that they do. It’s why I can never stoop to using a random name generator. There’s something wonderful in the perfect naming of things. Whilst I would never boast that I make up great names, I remain certain that, for whatever strange reasons, they are the right names.
The main characters in dotwav are Joe Dyson and Ani Lee. Again they are the perfect names for those characters.
I just can’t tell you why.
(Oh, and the character that inspired this post, the one that I kept typing and re-typing, is now flourishing under the name Sam Glass.)