MY CHARACTER NAMES

I find character names really hard to choose. It should be easy for me – after all, I write historical adventure. My books are set in a specific time and place so it doesn’t take much effort to find a list of names on the Internet. But picking one of the list is still hard! I ask friends and family for help but their choices don’t seem right either. Eventually they get sick of me saying: “No not that one” and I get told: “What are you asking me for then? Do it yourself.” *sigh*

When I was writing Samurai Kids, I was very conscious of having six main characters – all with Japanese names. The feedback I received from friends and colleagues was – “Too many names, too hard to remember. Do you really need six main characters?” But I did. So I thought I should choose names that had a familiar ring, then they would be easy to remember. I didn’t necessarily select legitimate Japanese names. What I didn’t realise then was I was thinking with the adult half of my brain.
When the book was published and I started to receive feedback from kids via email and school visits, I discovered something surprising. Kids had no trouble at all remembering the names. Writing Tip #1 Never underestimate the child reader. As long as your story has their attention, you can have as many unusual character names as you like. Although it is a great icebreaker when I ask a class where the name Yoshi came from. (Just for those who don’t know, Yoshi’s Story is one of Nintendo’s most popular and enduring games).

Now in retrospect I wish I had chosen all six legitimate Japanese names and I have promised to listen to the child side of my brain in future. When I wrote Polar Boy I consulted a list of Inuit names and chose Iluak and Miki. I liked the way they rolled off my tongue and it seemed appropriate that Iluak meant ‘one who does good things’ and Miki meant ‘little’. I chose Finn because it made me think of snow and ice.

At the same time a friend told me about Michelle Paver’s Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series. It sounded wonderful and I wanted to rush out and read them. But geographically there were some similarities to the setting of Polar Boy and I have this rule – Personal Writing Rule #1: Don’t concurrently read anything at all similar to what you are writing. So it had to wait. And that worked out well as by the time I finished my ms there were three books in the series waiting for me and it was an absolute feast to sit down and read them all back-to-back. And I was glad of PWR #1 as Michelle Paver’s main characters Torak and Renn sound very similar to Iluak and Finn. But that’s where the similarities end and thanks to PWR #1 I know my choice was influenced at all.

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