Pauline Rowson on choosing names for characters in crime novels

Getting the right name for characters in my crime fiction novels can be a tricky business. Sometimes they come to me completely out of the blue, as I am creating a character, other times I will struggle to find the name that best suits that particular character and until I do the personality refuses to come fully alive. The name has to fit. If it's not right then the character isn't right. The name also needs to fit with the age and nationality although you can have exceptions.

When seeking inspiration for first names I turn to my little book of baby's names or I will look up websites of baby's names. I also keep an ear out for any unusual or interesting names when meeting people and will jot these down. One danger is over using a name. For some reason I seem to have a penchant for the name Eric, and when I did a search through previous novels found that I’d used it before for different characters, albeit minor ones. So no more Erics.

As to surnames, I let my finger do the choosing and tend to pick these out of an atlas or street map. Then I see if it fits with the first name and the character. The more novels I write, (I’ve now written eleven) the more I am in danger of repeating names, (it's easy to forget what you have already used) so I’m building a database in order to double check this.

Readers also tell me that some novelists have too many characters’ surnames all beginning with the same letter and they find this very confusing. Now I scrutinise my work to check that not everyone has a surname beginning with the letter ‘C’. Not sure why I gravitate towards ‘C’ but I do.

And finally where did the name of my main character DI Andy Horton spring from? I've no idea. It just came to mind. It was only recently however that I was contacted by his namesake in the Hampshire Police Force. A polite e mail asked me whether he had inspired the name and/or the character. I replied saying that if he was indeed tall, blonde, fit and handsome then maybe? He replied saying he was tall, fit, dark and his wife thought him handsome. I was somewhat relieved to find the real Inspector Houghton had a sense of humour and spelt his name differently.

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Comment by Pauline Rowson on November 20, 2012 at 12:46am

Thanks for your comments, some good points.

Comment by Dana King on November 19, 2012 at 11:37pm

I have to be careful with first names, for the same reason as you mention: some come to me too easily and often. I've found last names much easier, as there are resources available. For stories set in a fictional version of my home town, I use old high school yearbooks. For other places, I'll bring up local papers online, or Google the name of the town or area to see what names may have appeared historically. The proper ethnic flavor to the names can help to set the location in readers' minds.

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