How do you name your characters?
I hate it when I see banal, run of the mill character names that read like they’ve been lifted from 1950s conformist literature. When I read an opening that starts like this: “Bill Edwards stopped before he entered the room,” my literary hackles rise instantly. I don’t like him. I don’t identify. Why choose such a bland, uninspired tag for a protagonist?
To me, names like Bill Edwards, or Alice Reynolds, or John Nelson or a thousand others like them carry no meaning, no attributes other than to connect the characters to a whitewashed mainstream society completely lacking in individuality. And I’ll go as far as to say it shows little effort on the part of the writer to infuse the character with any personality or culture or meaning. Just give him any name, the writer must think; they’re all about the same.
I thought of this as I drafted a short story recently. I needed a companion for a field trip to the Amazon. Just a minor role, but the name needed to convey a sense of the place and purpose. To me that meant Hispanic in origin. The character would be highly educated and in charge of the expedition. Cartagena came to mind, perhaps because I once knew a man named Dan Cartagena, and he was like that. It certainly fit the first two requirements, and it seemed to impart a connection to the travel and science aspects of the trip, the “carta” half invoking cartography.
Readers, I believe, pick up on those things whether they are conscious of them or not.
Other writers often ask me why I choose the names I do. All I can say is I look for subtle meanings to help illuminate the themes of my stories:
A man who accidentally kills a famous writer, and then struggles with the religious and cultural implications of his involvement: Jonathan Pagán.
A troubled teen who shoots his abusive father and becomes a role model for another boy in a similar situation: Michael Gale.
Too transparent? Au contrare, I don’t think writers do this enough.
My best names I saved for my novel, Mr. Neutron. Without giving too much away, I can say the title character is a man who can’t catch a break, and seems to have no effect on situations no matter how hard he tries. After much deliberation, I settled on Gray Davenport. The “gray” part should be obvious. Davenport, most of you know, is another word for couch, which makes Gray Davenport a sofa of a man, someone to be sat upon by asses of all weights and sizes. Well, it is a satire, after all.
What are your favorite character names—both those you’ve invented and those you’ve read?
 And why intro the name before we get a sense of the story—but that’s another blog.
 Yes, definitely a ripoff of James Joyce’s Michael Furey in “The Dead.”
 IMHO, of course