Hercule Poirot. Sam Spade. Stephanie Plum. Lou Mason. While these familiar names roll off our tongues as if they were real people, the authors who invented them probably spent hours agonizing over every syllable. Coming up with a crime fiction character’s name may seem as hard as naming a child, and for good reason. If you’re only of those lucky authors with a long running mystery series, you may be stuck with that name for decades or more. Luckily, there are few tips to help you find the perfect name for your crime fiction character.
- Honor the era. If your suspense novel is set in Boston in the 1800s, today’s popular names – like Dylan or Tyler – will stick out like a sore thumb. Similarly, a name like Beatrice or Edith may feel dated for a contemporary mystery set in Los Angeles. You’ve probably done plenty of research about the time period in which your crime fiction series is set, so don’t let this small detail upset the authenticity.
- Strike a balance. Your character’s name will create your reader’s first impression, and will be one of the details that stick long after your mystery has been read. Selecting a generic crime fiction character name like Mike Smith won’t create a memorable impression – but an elaborate name like Serendipity Megalopolous may be a little over the top. Aim for middle ground – choosing a moniker you could imagine calling a friend. If you’re looking for a little deeper symbolism, browse through a book of name meanings to find something that subtly reflects your character’s biggest asset or trait.
- Don’t duplicate. With Google, it’s easy to do a quick search to be sure the character name you’ve chosen doesn’t have any negative connotations – or hasn’t already been used in another mystery series or novel. Inadvertently naming your character after a serial killer or modern day villain like Bernie Madoff may alienate readers from the first page. You’ll also want to avoid any public figures or extremely common names to keep your book firmly rooted in the word of crime fiction rather than true crime!
- Get personal. If you’re really agonizing over your character name, don’t be afraid to dig through your own past. Combine your favorite teacher’s first name with your college roommate’s last name – or use your favorite restaurant as your crime fiction character name. You may be writing about these fictional people for years to come, so naming characters after friends and family can evoke fond memories. Plus, your son may get a kick find out the shares the name of the villain in your next thriller!
Finding the perfect crime fiction character name doesn’t have to be a Herculean task. With a little thought and consideration, you’ll find the right name – and you may be surprised to find how character springs to life once you do!