Jilly Cooper: “You have to be very careful not to use real people’s names by mistake, as they might sue you if they behave badly in the story… I find it safer to use towns and villages for surnames.”
[in an interview with ‘The Times’ newspaper, May 15, 2017]
Like Jilly, I like to use a road atlas to choose character names. Other useful sources are books of baby names, plants, trees, astrology, astronomy, and a world atlas. To avoid misunderstandings, it is wise to avoiding using a name which belongs to family or friends.
Here are some quick rules:-
Use alliterative initials: Bilbo Baggins, Severus Snape.
If you are writing a historical novel, make sure your chosen name is correct for the era.
Check your cast of characters to avoid the repetitive use of first initials, and vary the number of syllables.
Say the name aloud, remember your book may become an audio book.
Check the origins of the name and root meanings. If necessary, change the name or amend character traits and background appropriately.
Adapt a name by combining two elements, for example Burton [village] and colour [green] to make Greenburton.
Keep your names realistic, add a John or Elizabeth to the mixture.
If your novel has a strong geographical root, make sure the names are suited to the location. I come from Yorkshire, where is also a village called Danby. Read my surname story here.
‘Mount!’ by Jilly Cooper [UK: Corgi]
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
How Jilly Cooper chooses character names #writing via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2Ac