How do I choose a name for the main character in my first book?
That's the question I wrestled with as the ideas that eventually coalesced into a cozy mystery rattled around in my head.
How do I even come close?
An internet search uncovers dozens of five or seven or nineteen steps, rules and methods to name the characters in a novel. Some of these strategies seem overly complicated. I gathered some advice from them, then mostly went with my gut.
Sam Cook is the name that came to me for my protagonist, a thirty-something singer-songwriter. I liked the sound of it.
The NY Book Editors Blog says: "The characters don’t name themselves—this is the job of your character’s parents."
I think that hits the nail on the head, and I had it covered before I read the blog. The amateur sleuth in my cozy was named by her father, Peter Cook. Her name is Samantha, but she goes by Sam. He named her after one of his musical idols, the fabulous Sam Cooke, the "King of Soul".
In explaining his choice, Samantha's dad says, "A great songwriter, Sam Cooke, a civil rights champion, and an incredible voice. One of my all-time favorites." Both Sam's dad and I hope that she will embody the passion for civil rights and the musicality of her namesake.
A post on reedsyblog, another selection I read after creating the character of Sam Cook, cautions: "Switching between a real name and nickname can confuse the reader. But it can also add context about characters and their relationships with others."
I agree that names and nicknames give clues to relationships. My protagonist's father calls her Sam - because he named her after his idol. The man who is interested in her romantically prefers Samantha. A best friend from childhood uses Sammy, the nickname he gave her when they were kids. When you read those names on the page and hear them in your head, you get a feel for the connection Sam has with each of those important people in her life.
Time will tell whether Sam Cook is a name that will take its place on the list of well-known cozy characters, but I have a good feeling about her.
For some other characters, I used a more research-based method to ensure that their names would be a good fit with who they are, their culture and heritage. Sam's roommate and bandmate is an African American woman, also in her thirties. I wanted a name that matched her ancestry but didn't scream it. I wanted her name to fit her, but I also wanted readers to come to a gradual understanding of who she is. I read list after list of names and chose Nia, with the simple surname Taylor.
According to nameberry, "Nia is a girl's name of Swahili origin meaning "resolve; brilliance". It is "short but energetic and substantial", and "has special meaning for African-American parents, as it's one of the days of Kwanza". Baby Name Buzz lists the meaning of Nia as "purpose". I think this name fits the character and we will learn more about how she got it and how she embodies it later in the series.
Sam's main love interest is an Israeli-born folk singer who now lives in the U.S, but whose family still resides in Haifa. His name needed to reflect that. I again poured over lists of names. He is an extremely good-looking man and Gavriel is a beautiful name that fits him. His last name is Biton because I like the sound of the two names together.
One of Sam's childhood friends is a Millennial Hippie. He drives a refurbished VW van, has a ponytail and a laid-back persona. His nickname came to me first - Tang. I think his parents were hippies too - and they gave him the name Mustang, after the "half wild horses of the American prairie." It fit with their surname, which is Loredo.
Another of Sam's childhood friends has a nickname that adds context to their relationship. His name is Jay but her nickname for him is Jaybee, like Tang, a holdover from their time together as children. It is an embodiment of the special relationship between them; she is the only one who calls him Jaybee.
The process of choosing names, and nicknames, for my characters seemed overwhelming at first, an obstacle in the way of the writing. But I have come to see that it is an integral part of weaving the story together. Each name choice is a thread, a warp or a weft, that completes the fabric of the tale. When I find that publisher, and you finally get to read this book, I hope you will let me know if I've chosen well.
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