Character of the Week: Mechanic Names

I lived in an Army town for a time, and I knew guys like this character.

Male, early 20s (born in the late 1960s/early 1970s)

This is the friend, so his name shouldn’t be cooler than the main character’s. In this case, the name I focused on was the surname, since Army guys are likely to call each other surnames. Surnames are not my specialty, but I like the one I gave here: Webber. It is strong, Germanic, simple (especially compared to Zakarian), friendly and yet complex. And I think an occupational name is perfect for a guy who can only commit to his work.

For the given name, I gave a selection on popular names from when the character was born. Obviously this writer likes popular names that indicate the age of the character, since Greg was chosen for the MC, and I thought this good-with-his-hands country boy needed an everyman name.

I tried to choose “down home” names with primarily Germanic origins.

  • Roger Webber
  • Kevin Webber
  • Todd Webber
  • Frank Webber
  • Johnny Webber

The writer replied: Leaning either towards Kevin or Johnny. Definitely going to use the last name though.Thanks!

I’m glad the writer liked Webber, and I think he’d do fine with any of the given name choices. Then again, I’m biased: I know a Kevin who works on machinery, a Todd who is a mechanic, and a Frank who is an Army brat with a Germanic father.

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Name Theory: Middle Names

In honor of Middle Name Pride Day I thought I should write a quick post about character’s middle names.

Do you give your characters middle names? I don’t.

I know many writers like to “know everything” about their characters. I admit knowing a lot about your characters can help you know their motivation and how they will act in various situations, but I don’t believe you need to “know everything”.

Give your character some flex room to move and grow, let him or her be a bit of a mystery to you so you can discover details along the way.

Middle names are certainly one of those details that can be discovered through the writing. Let your character tell you if their middle name is important to their story.

So far only one of my characters has had a middle name. It was never mentioned in the story because the character was teased about it and she never liked mentioning it. It is part of the reason why she went by a nickname instead of her full name, but it was a detail that wasn’t necessary for the story.

On Middle Name Pride Day, however, she may have been pressed by her bestie to reveal that her first and middle names are Calliope Jane but that you should never call her Calamity Jane (not that her friend would have understood the reference).

Name Theory: Reference Naming

I have never named a character after someone I know, and I would strongly suggest you never do it either. Many an author has been sued for naming a character after someone they knew or after a well-known person, or even after another character. And, even if your character isn’t like the person whose name you used, don’t use it because then they will just complain that “I’m not a prostitute, I’m a stripper.”

With all the names available for your characters, there is no reason why you should resort to stealing a name. Even if the name is “perfect” for the character, and even if you always think of the character by that name, you should stretch your creativity to find a suitable name that cannot be traced back to its source.

There are exceptions, of course. Using a version of a well-known person’s name or character’s name in a parody is acceptable use. Using a very common name is okay, as long as you don’t use the given and surname of an individual (or any of that person’s specific quirks). And you can reference a person who is relevant to your genre (e.g. use a well-known physicist’s surname as your sci-fi character’s given name) as an Easter egg for your readers.

But you should not use a living person’s name (or a trademarked name) without express—and preferably written—permission. Because while you may see it as harmless fun or a special honor, they might see it as embarrassing or—worse—as a libelous insult.

Remember the notes that you see on nearly every movie and book, and make sure your characters’ names are purely fictional and that … any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is merely coincidental.

That, or make sure you have a good lawyer on retainer.