It's hard enough choosing names for new babies in real life isn't it? Oh the suggestions and the rejections abound. Some parents go all out and OTT with lots of names whilst others give just one forename. With girls their name may be a good fit with the parental surname but what happens if they marry and decide to take their husbands name? I once met a woman called Mary a good old-fashioned name that went well with her family name but her new husband's surname was Christmas. Poor woman.
It's not always obvious at first sight that the name is a mistake.
Robyn for a girl is different but teamed with Banks it doesn't work. Penelope Wise - nice name but use the diminutive Penny and it's not so good. As for Joseph King - well I think you get the point when Joseph becomes Jo.
Research carried out by Professor Richard Webber [King's College, London shows that many old British surnames handed down for generations have disappeared in recent years. Names that in the 21st century people find funny or embarrassing like Shufflebottom, Cock, Daft, Pratt, Balls are dying out. In 1881 the most popular surnames were, Smith, Jones, Williams, Brown, Taylor, Davies, Wilson, Evans and Thomas. Those nine names are still popular today.
Getting the right character names for my heroines and heros is a real struggle. Sometimes they come to me ready made other times nothing suits either them or the story. In the past I've been known to be ten or even twenty thousand words into a story when I realise it's not working because the main character's name is wrong. I do have a tendancy too to re-use names without conscious thought particularly for my older characters. Names like Harriet, Matilda and Anna are just three that I have to avoid for future books. In fact I've created a list of all the names I've used in my books so that I can see at a glance which ones not to use again. These days I've learnt that giving my characters the right names for them is essential before I start writing.
Writing contemporary fiction as I do, I find naming characters is a minefield. Of course using everyday names it's virtually impossible to avoid giving a character a name that turns out to belong to someone in Real Life. For this reason I always check via Google these days to see whether there is anyone living with the same name who could possibly be living a similar life as my character. For instance, in the book I'm currently writing, one of my characters is married to a Member of Parliament so while I've given him a fairly ordinary forename, his surname is definitely unusual and I've checked and doubled checked there is no MP with that name. Another thing to worry about is the name of younger characters. Some names given to 21st century babies are quirky and celebrity-led with parents wanting unusual names to ensure their children stand out from the crowd. I can't help wondering whether their grownup children will thank them - or head straight to the nearest Deed Poll Office.
I'lI leave you with this quote from J.K.Rowling and a picture of a boy who couldn't be called anything but Harry.
"I love inventing names, but I also collect unusual names, so that I can look through my notebook and choose one that suits a new character."