“Call Me Pete” Just Wouldn’t Have Done the Job

By Jim Menick

I love the subject of character names. So much depends on what an author decides to call the people in a book. Huckleberry Finn, for instance, may be the most American name ever, with connotations of jam and immigrants. Plus, it leads to the good old diminutive, Huck. Who better to float down the Mississippi on a raft than a kid named Huck? And the classic opening line of Moby-Dick, “Call me Ishmael,” immediately invokes biblical connotations of Abraham and Hagar and exile in the wilderness.

If you’re a writer in need of names, or just curious, you might want to look at a fun and useful piece published on Amazon’s Omnivoracious blog called A King Named Sue: Picking Perfect (Character) Names. There’s advice about how common a name should be, or how unusual, even how names with different numbers of syllables have different impacts.

For my money, the all-time best author for names is Charles Dickens. Murdstone. Pecksniff. The Veneerings. Jarndyce. Wackford Squeers. Uriah Heep. Dick Swiveller. Havisham. The thing about all of these is that they all could be real, but each carries connotations of character or situation that are indelible. One doesn’t have to have a sham wedding to be a Miss Havisham, but if one does, then all the better.