Until someone mentioned the name Amaryllis in a review this weekend, I had almost forgotten about the trauma of choosing names for characters (thanks for reminding me, Chris G!).
In some cases, a first name arrives with the character and it’s impossible after a few pages to imagine using a different one. Several of the Pitkirtly crowd fall into this category: Christopher, Amaryllis, Jock, Dave. I don’t think Jemima Stevenson had a first name when she appeared, but it wasn’t too long until she invented one for herself. I had a bit of trouble with Maisie Sue, although most of the early attempts involved combinations of similar elements: Ellie Mae, Susie Mae, Mary-Ann, Susie-Ann and so on. Once I had thought of Pearson MacPherson I couldn’t not use it, no matter how silly it was!
I usually use the name I initially think of for a character, but if that doesn’t work then it often takes several attempts to choose something that seems right; I have been known to consult baby naming websites, particularly if I need something unusual or a name from another culture. On occasion the name is too right, in the sense that the character turns into someone I know who has the same name. This happened with a character in ‘Reunited in Death’, but I’d better not say which one. In any case, I changed it as soon as I noticed the increasing similarities.
In this vein, I once wrote a short novel (novella length) that actually had real people as characters, with their real names. This was great fun to write and would be impossible ever to release into the wild. Even when I let one of my sons read it, he took exception to the way I had portrayed him, and in other cases I think the people involved, particularly the one designated as murderer, would probably sue! As well as making me laugh a lot, it completely defused the fury I had been feeling about something one of the characters had done, and allowed me to move on from there.
But this kind of thing is writing as therapy and not writing for publication! I find it easier to remember the difference after consciously setting out to do it on that one occasion.