Staci here. While reviewing my manuscript, my agent questioned the names of several of my characters, wondering why the names were so old and “country,” especially considering that most of the characters are under the age of forty. An excellent question. While I want readers to be reminded that Blossom Valley is a small town, and not an urban location, not everyone should be named Marge, particularly the younger set. Blossom Valley might only boast five thousand people, but the town isn’t cut off from the outside world. The residents would name their children something current, reserving that middle name for Great Aunt Agatha or Uncle Eugene.
Character names are an important aspect of any story. Readers will base certain expectations on the protagonist’s first name, or even a nickname. One might assume a girl named Bambi works as a stripper (no offense to any Bambis out there). A woman named Ruth is generally an elderly church-goer who performs volunteer work. Chance’s parents most likely live in California and drink wine instead of beer.
But how to select a name? The obvious way to find a collection of possible names (other than the phone book) is to consider current singers, actors, and other people in the news who are roughly the same age as the character. But I can’t name someone Beyonce without repercussions. Everyone who reads the book will be picturing the actual Beyonce looking for clues and interviewing suspects, wondering if she’ll break into song at any moment. But I can easily select a more general first name, such as Kim or Lindsay, without the reader immediately associating the character with their more famous counterpart.
The other issue to consider is negative connotations that linger around a name. Obviously I won’t pick Ted Bundy for the name of the love interest. In fact, the name of the love interest in my book is Jason, a seemingly benign name. I’ve known several Jasons in my life, and they were all nice. But what if a reader went to school with a Jason and he was a bully? Or ditched her at the prom? Or ran over her cat? A reader’s personal experiences often affect how they respond to characters and situations in a book. And the odds of finding a name that no one can relate a negative feeling to are not good, unless I make up a completely new name. Like Tree. Or Lamp. But then the reader will ask, “What kind of name is Lamp?”
So I just have to pick the names I like, make sure they fit the personality and age of the character, and hope a reader didn’t have a boy named Jason steal their lunch every day at school.