Sam Sunborn is the hero in my NOT SO DEAD thriller series. Readers ask, “Where’d that name come from?” The quick answer is I dreamed it up, but there is really more to it. Names are important and personal, aren’t they? In fiction, they may take on even more levels of meaning and even be a precious gift to readers. They can be symbolic (think Luke Skywalker), clever (Katniss Everdeen), humorous: (Holly Golightly), and ironic (Maxwell Smart). A good name when associated with a memorable character can even transcend the book to become part of the daily lexicon (think “Rambo”).
“Sam’s unique name helps. He even has his own Twitter account.”
Names continually fascinate me, both in the real world and in literature. Readers of my newsletter may remember the fun we had with aptronyms — actual names that sometimes humorously reflect people’s professions like Dr. Timothy Kneebone, Chiropractor, or Dr. Benjamin Leak, Urologist.
In writing NOT SO DEAD, I wanted a name that was memorable, symbolic, euphonic, and unique. What does that mean?
Memorable doesn’t just mean easy to remember. The name should have some resonance, teasing something in your subconscious. Among readers, Sam Sunborn seems to have some kind of ethereal connection to famous characters like Jason Bourne or Sam Seaborn. Good.
Symbolic. The meaning of the name reflects the character’s personality and actions. Sunborn = born of the sun. like Apollo, he radiates light, optimism, and power. Although he frequently fails, he tries to illuminate most of the time.
Short. If the name’s too long, you probably won’t remember it. Michael Connelly fans know Bosch – short, punchy, but most wouldn’t remember his full name, Hieronymous Bosch, and Connelly only occasionally mentions that long first name.
Euphoric. Names that sound good stick with us. If I say, Serena, you’ll probably know who I’m referring to. The name Serena just flows like a wave and is pleasant to say and to hear. Further, alliteration lends some poetry to a name like Marilyn Monroe (real person, made-up name). In Sam Sunborn, you have the repetitive S. I also the like the one-syllable first name and the two-syllable last name — it’s kind of like a jab than a punch, a da-ta-ta.
Unique. Although the name Sam Sunborn is short and simple, it is totally unique. That’s intentional. Not only does it hold a singular place in memory, but if you Google Sam Sunborn, he dominates the results — every Google entry is a reference to my Sam in one of the NOT SO DEAD books, on Amazon, Goodreads, Audible, Apple, Twitter and more. As an author, I do like to sell books. Sam’s unique name helps. He even has his own Twitter account. You can follow him @SamSunborn.com.
What about all the supporting character names? The other type of name that seems to resonate with readers are authentic, actual names. Can’t you tell when a name sounds real from when it sounds fake? That’s why most of the other characters in my most recent thriller NOT SO DONE and the upcoming one (You can vote on the book title) are the true names of my readers. Huh? Yes, in the last two summers, I asked for volunteers, Who wants to be murdered in my next book? Over two hundred good-humored readers raised a hand, and many of them will have the pleasure of seeing their names in my pages — both good guys and villainous men and women.
So, what’s in a name? Maybe more than you think.
Who’s your favorite fictional character name? Please share it with us in the comments below and if you care to, tell us why that name appeals to you.
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