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A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, or so Shakespeare tells us.

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, or so Shakespeare tells us.

It’s time to bite the bullet and actually start writing my third novel, rather than just thinking about it. And that, of course, means giving names to my characters.

I’m not convinced that characters need surnames, and none of my mine have had one. However, all my writing so far has been romance-themed, whereas this next one is a thriller. I think the police, at least, will need surnames. “Chief Inspector Bob” lacks a certain gravitas.

But how to choose those all-important first names? I run through all my relatives, friends and colleagues, hoping for a name that encapsulates everything I want to say about a character. Some names I immediately reject simply because I don’t like the name — or the person I associate with the name! Some seem too old fashioned, or too time-specific. Some I like, but readers don’t. I had to change the name of a character in ‘Too Close’ after both my editor and some beta readers told me, unprompted, that they disliked the name. The character’s name was Felicity, known by the nickname ‘Flea’; she ended up being Kylie, with no nickname. But I still think of her as Flea!

So, for the new novel. I’ve decided on Caroline for the heroine, not because I especially like the name but because I want to tie it to the song “Sweet Caroline”. The villain will be called Rhys, at my editor’s suggestion [update: she has asked me to clarify that although the name is her suggestion, giving it to the bad guy is not]. I don’t know anyone named Rhys, but I love the hissing sound you can make when you say it, as when the pantomime bad guy comes on stage. And there’s the shadowy third figure, who may turn out to be a villain or may turn out to be the hero: I wanted him to be Italian, so I turned to Google to find Italian men’s names. Alfonso, Alfredo, Alonzo, Andrea, Benito (ugh, no, I’m not calling my character after a WWII dictator!), Carlo, Dante (inferno, anyone?), Donato . . . I went back to Carlo. I liked it. And then my editor queried the similarity of Carlo and Caroline, so I’m still short one name.

I’ve found inspiration for the names of minor characters in a place I hadn’t considered before: a cemetery. I often walk through Waverley Cemetery and can’t resist reading some of the headstones, and wondering about the stories behind the tragic ones, those names with a tiny span of years, a woman in her 20s, a boy in his teens. One headstone was for Nola. Great name, I thought. So Nola is now the fraternal twin sister of the heroine’s late husband, Neill. Sorted.

Now, all I’ve got to do is knock out 90,000 words, and I’m set.