The naming of characters

Character names often outshine the titles of novels, lodging in readers’ minds and entering popular culture as nouns, a shorthand way of describing an acquaintance, such as Tarzan, Sherlock, Gandalf, Hermione or The Wicked Witch.

I’m currently reading James Lee Burke’s novel The Jealous Kind, whose protagonist is distinctly named Aaron Holland Broussard. He’s the grandson of Hackberry Holland who featured in four of Burke’s thirty-six novels.

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I try to make my fictional character’s names memorable and am blessed that Cornwall, where my detective stories are set, has a rich array of unusual family names from its Celtic roots.

Thus, I called the owner of a chain of massage parlours Caradoc Honeycombe, which suited his gelatinous nature. Gordon Honeycombe was a popular British newsreader in the 1970s and 1980s, who organised a get-together of 160 members of the Honeycombe clan in 1984. There are 350 Honeycombes worldwide, all descended from one man called Matthew Honeycombe, who lived in the Cornish moorland village of Saint Cleer 350 years ago. Caradoc was a Knight of the Round Table during Uther Pendragon’s time.

Other of my character names include:

*Cleaver— for a heavily-scarred bodyguard who favours blades.

*Noah and Nina Shrike—ex-secret agents, who turn out to be cannibals. A shrike is also known as a butcher bird, as it stores dead prey on spiked vegetation.

*Luna Moth—a massage therapist from Vietnam, who has a large tattoo of this green-winged insect on her back.

*The Watcher—the title given to a sniper by his comrades in the Croatian War of Independence. He was turned into a killing machine by his traumatic experiences as a boy soldier, sating his bloodlust in peacetime by playing a real-life murderous role-play game. I didn’t mention his original family name; he’d dissociated from his origins.

*Esau Tregenza—a reclusive farmer whose mummified body is found in the kitchen of his remote farm, where it has been sitting for five years. A staunch Methodist, all of his ancestors were named after characters from the Bible.

*Tabitha Anstock-Struthers—Devon & Cornwall Police Authority’s press officer. More of a spin doctor, she has the soul of a cyborg.

Some of the names I use hint at the personalities of my heroes and villains, and there’s research evidence that how we’re named affects out entire lives:

The Name Game: how names spell success in life and love

Have you invented any memorable fictional character names?

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