The first time I sat down to choose names for the characters in my books, I disliked the task and frankly speaking did not pay much attention to it. The names were chosen at random without much thought. That too only the important characters. The very minor ones like the watchman who made just a single appearance was left nameless. I tried to concentrate on the story, plot and twists.
But all this changed the day I got a call from a publisher saying that they were interested in publishing my books. After I signed the contract, my editor and I sat down to brainstorm names for every character, even characters whose claim to fame was a solitary appearance in my illustrated books for children. My editor was very firm that readers bond with characters and its absolutely vital to give them names. And nameless characters will never be befriended, or, become memorable.
When my story was commissioned for a puffin anthology few years back, the puffin editor called me to ask for few changes in my story, before winding up she asked me why I had not named the watchman’s cat. For me she was just the watchman’s cat : a nameless creature. Not only was I clueless, but there was also silence from my side. How was I supposed to think of a name during a phone conversation. “Can I go with the name I have chosen, she asked ?” The name hater that I was I agreed to go along with the name she suggested. Anything to avoid that task.
But all that has changed now. Perhaps the change has come when readers tell me that they identified with Leo, Bunny, Nina, or Paro (the names of the characters in my earlier books). This appreciation has worked as a major incentive.
For the two books I am currently working on, I took several days just to think up unusual names for each and every character. Full names, with the surnames included. It was difficult as both the books are based in schools and as we all know schools are swarming with children and teachers and sundry staff. So there were at least 60 to 70 names for each book, as well as surnames. This is no mean task for an Indian writer as we have many different communities and surnames typical of those communities. If I gave a child a particular surname, not only was he tied to that community forever, he also had to follow their customs and beliefs.
I decided that just naming every character would not be enough. They were given individual personalities to match the names. Each name conjured up an image of the teacher or student fitting that name. It was fun. I turned to different sources for the names: newspapers, magazines, movies, literature, religious texts, arts; dancers, painters and musicians (some of them have unique names). During the naming days my ears were constantly strained to pick up unusual names. At times I created few names by combining two names. This threw up many original names.
What about you all? How do you all go about naming your characters? Do you name your characters with the first name that jumps into your mind, or, are these names the product of a meticulous research and hard work. Do you have any tips to share?