What’s in a name?

Now onto writing the fourth book in my DI Donna Davenport series, there are a lot of characters involved – and that means a lot of names to come up with. Every writer has their own way of finding names for their characters. Here’s something of how I do it…

The core characters in my series are Donna Davenport (of course), Libby Quinn, and Natesh Chaudrakar. In the case of Donna, there’s a story (of course…)

Many years ago I wrote a book set in Mexico, where I’ve never visited. So I’d done a lot of online research to try and make the setting credible. But a friend of mine suggested writing a book set in my home town (Arbroath), which eventually became TOXIC.

Now, in the original version of TOXIC, Libby Quinn was the main character, and Donna wasn’t in it at all. In a later draft, I introduced the character that would become Donna, and I decided to name her after the friend who’d suggested I set the book in Arbroath. So, I had the name Donna, but struggled to find her a surname. That was when my partner Allison stepped in, and suggested Davenport.

Generally, when I’m looking to name a character, I’ll check out the credits at the end of a TV programme or film (the main character in another series I’m writing – Suzy Sangster – was named in this way), or I might run through the alphabet until a name feels right for a character, which is how Libby’s name emerged.

As for Natesh – and for several characters I’ve written whose origins come from cultures that I’m not very familiar with (like PC Thomas Akwasi) – a bit more work was required. I knew Natesh’s character and his background before I knew his name, and to name him appropriately I had to do some research into naming conventions in his particular cultural origins. When I’ve done this, and selected a name, I like to Google it to check there are really people with the same name, just to be sure I haven’t made up something unlikely.

I’ve learned a lot about how people in other parts of the world are named, from Sri Lanka, to Cuba, to Turkey, Kenya, and Morocco, amongst others, and it’s one of the interesting things about writing a novel.

It’s important to give our characters the names that suit them, and it can be a difficult thing to do – I’m always keen to hear about how other writers do it.