Choosing the proper names for my characters is something I have focused on my entire career–which now spans more than two decades. I remember reading books early on where the character names were so close to one another that I got mixed up who was who. As a result, in my own novels and outlines, I started keeping a list, a cast of characters, to make sure that their last names did not begin with the same letter that another character’s did. However, as I got deeper into both of my series, and mixed and matched characters, it became a more difficult task, as I had characters from different series whose last names began with the same letter. I still spend a lot of time trying to ensure that there are no “collisions” among character names, but with my thirteenth novel (currently in the edit phase) it’s a more tangled task.
In addition to avoiding confusion, the name has to work for me as a writer. By that I mean it has to match the character’s personality. This is good form anyway (unless you purposely want a contrast (for example, you make Jack Bolt a wimp—not what one would expect with a name like that); for my aggressive characters, I generally go for Rs, Ts, Ds, and so on—so the name automatically conjures “hardness.”
In DARK SIDE OF THE MOON (the fourth covert ops book in the OPSIG Team Black series), the US military general in charge of the Moon shot that my special forces operatives must carry out is named Klaus Eisenbach. A launch and Moon landing is an exacting and monumental task—attention to detail is critical—so I chose a German name, utilizing the positive character trait often associated with Germans…BMW engages in the “relentless pursuit of perfection” and uses “German engineering” to build “the ultimate driving machine.” General Eisenbach must embody such traits to carry out a successful, and risky, mission. (But be careful: when using ethnic names, use caution with stereotypes. It can be a fine line…just don’t cross it.)
In FALSE ACCUSATIONS, my debut novel from twenty years ago, I named the antagonist Brittany Harding. She was, indeed, a manipulative, unfeeling person who did some very bad things to people…but she was also very attractive and alluring, so I gave her a name that rolls off the tongue and conjures beauty. The name itself provided the contrast that the character embodied.
Does this matter to the reader? Perhaps to some, but definitely not to all. However, it matters to me, and I’m the one creating, filling those blank pages with words, sentences, paragraphs, and ultimately pages. If the name isn’t working for me, the character doesn’t, either.