Character of the Week: Surnames -n

This naming, or un-naming as the case may be, is a lot of opinion and less in the way of creativity. The writer asked a question, and I gave my best reply. I trust that the writer came up with some great new surnames.

After all was imagined, plotted, outlined and drafted, I realized the four main characters in my novel all have two-syllable last names that end in “n”: Loden; Phelan; Corwin; Doman. Although I took immense care in naming each character, as I always do, and have become really attached to the names, I am wondering if this coincidence will prove distracting, especially during scenes when all four interact with dialogue. (Being a military environment, I refer to everyone by their last names.) Feedback?

This is definitely a problem. It is not just distracting, it could become downright annoying.

I know when I choose surnames I find one that fits the given name I’ve chosen and the “feeling” that I’m going for, and then I consider it done. But it is usually easier to change surnames since they aren’t used much. Unfortunately for you, the surnames are probably the names you are more connected and attached to.

The good news is, you know your style and you can feel your way into choosing names you love. The bad news is, you have to give at least three of these names up. You should give up three of them, but if they are different enough (maybe Phelan and Corwin would work) you may keep up to two. For your readers’ sake, two is the absolute maximum.

I will let you know that you have only just tapped into the national consciousness in you naming preference: Currently, the ending –n is the most popular ending for boys names in the USA. This is why I specifically avoided –n ending names when naming my son, because while you may have a desire for accurate, appropriate names that are normal, you don’t want to give your baby (real life baby or novel baby) a name that is too common and popular and which may scream of a given time and place. Variety is, after all, the spice of life.

Spice up your names. I have confidence that you can do it. It may hurt, but it will only make your novel better in the long run.

Wow, thank-you for responding so quickly and thoroughly! And you are exactly right on all counts, confirming my gut instinct. I will change the names.


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