Names are important. They should capture the essence of your characters. I also think they should be pronounceable and appropriate for whatever world the characters inhabit.
Genres have certain naming conventions. You wouldn’t find an Arawyn Dawnstalker in a realistic coming-of-age story set in New Jersey, nor would you find a John Clarke in a high fantasy novel. I’m not a fan of fancy, polysyllabic names (with apostrophes!). I admit that I’ve never actually made it through the entire Lord of the Rings series, and part of that is because I get too bogged down in not knowing who or where anything is because it’s all in a made-up language. I mean, serious kudos for Tolkien for inventing several different dialects of Elvish, but the problem with totally invented fantasy languages is that NO ONE ELSE CAN SPEAK THEM.
One of the things that Susanne Collins did best in The Hunger Games was to create a totally organic system of naming that was both unique and familiar. Katniss Everdeen is a perfect name. It sounds kind of like “real world” names, but it’s not. A reader can pronounce it easily without a glossary, and it rolls pleasantly off the tongue.
I recently read Hounded by Kevin Hearne, and, plot problems and general silliness aside, the names were impossible. It took me out of the story every time I had to trip over one. Most of the characters are from Irish mythology, and the main character’s real name is Siodhachan O Suileabhain. Even though he goes by Atticus O’Sullivan in the present day, half of the characters still call him by his original name. There’s a two-and-a-half page pronunciation guide at the beginning of the book, prefaced by the author’s statement that he doesn’t “wish to steal anyone’s marshmallows by telling them they’re ‘saying it wrong.’” Um, okay then, Kevin. I’m going to pronounce your name Key-VAHN now, if that’s all right.
I’m not immune to Bad Names. Sometimes my characters arrive with neatly printed name tags, and other times they go through several different names until I find one that fits. Lark Wayland was originally Wren Smith, and Grimoire has gone through so many last names that I can’t remember them all. Alaric Bright was originally called Lucien Whitestone, and Archer was originally called Halberd. I actually have a little throwaway joke about that in Grey Magic because Halberd is such an atrocious name. I don’t know why I ever thought it was a good idea.
Locke and Oracle were always called that, and in my new book, The Ghosts of Evergreen, the main character’s roommate popped into my head fully formed as Lucy Fa. I don’t want to force my cast of characters to be a United Colors of Benetton ad, but at the same time, I’m taking pains to make it a bit less white bread. The main character is named Kat, but her last name is giving me trouble. I thought about Owens, but now I’m leaning more towards something Polish, like Kaczmarek. Or maybe that’s too out there. Kat Jenkins? Hell, I don’t know. There are so many weird–and sometimes not very pretty–names in the world, but it seems like we tend to pull from only the most common ones.
So, what’s the worst–or best–character name you’ve come across?