I have to choose a name for a new character, and I wonder what you think.
Picking a name for a character is serious business. I’m sure every writer has a method s/he prefers. I usually go with a combination of the phone book for last names and baby name web sites for first names. When I want a name to sound particularly ethnic, I also search web sites for “common names” for whatever ethnicity I want my character to reflect. I usually go with fairly short names if it seems that pronunciation might be difficult for, say, me.
In my new WIP (!), which is book three of my Phoebe trilogy (book two is finished! Cue fireworks!), I have introduced a character, a young man, who is taking the coursework necessary to become certified in protection driving—the kind of driving that celebrities and politicians hire when they feel threatened. I want this driver to be able to do 180-degree turns at 60mph and have martial arts skills. At this point I do not want him to carry a gun, but I guess that could change. I want this character to have a (so far unidentified by nationality) Arabic-speaking background. He lives in Washington, D.C., a multi-ethnic, culturally diverse city where politicians and celebrities might want protection.
So I searched for names—first names first. I settled on Jamal, because I thought it opened up the possibility that this character, whose background I’m still unsure of, could be of African or African American ethnicity as easily as, say, of Middle Eastern extraction. If I never settle on his ethnicity for this story, I think the name Jamal opens up questions in the readers’ minds about who this young man is, what his story is. So I liked Jamal.
Then for the last name. By now I was fired up by the possibilities of ambiguity, so I looked for something not obvious. But I wanted to be cautious: I have another major character who is Southeast Asian Indian, and I didn’t want Jamal’s last name to sound Indian. I tentatively settled on “Mudin.” So then I had Jamal Mudin.
Four chapters in, I’m having second thoughts. The name Jamal is still good. He is Jamal. But I think I want a more Arabic-sounding last name after all. Will anyone even know that “Mudin” is Arabic? So now I’m thinking of changing Mudin to Marwazi. No one will confuse that with anything but an Arabic name, right? Do the two “M’s” in that name combination make it hard to pronounce?
I have to stay away from last names starting with letters R, B, A, G, S, or K because other characters already have last names starting with those letters. So, what do you think? Mudin or Marwazi? Or something else? Let me know.