Kay: Time to Vote

What’s in a name? Photo via persnicketypoop on Reddit (2012)

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.

15 thoughts on “Kay: Time to Vote

  1. I like the new last name. I don’t think there are too many “m’s.” Rolls right off my tongue! Excited to hear about this story as it develops! Yay you for finishing #2!

  2. Congratulations on finishing Book 2! I’m really looking forward to reading this trilogy.

    Sorry to muddy the waters, I prefer Mudin. I think two “m’s” is fine, but my tongue trips over the ma-ma repetition in Jamal Marwazi. He sounds like an interesting character, whatever you call him!

  3. PS Forgot to say I read your Christmas in Caterwaul Creek novella last night. Greatly enjoyed it. A very fun, kind, subtle take on the Christmas story. Thank you!

    • Oh, thank you! And thank you for understanding that it IS a take on the Christmas story! I had approval from an editor on the outline, and when I sent the story, she was all about the revisions: nothing about it made it unique to the holiday, she said, and I needed to develop a sexual relationship between Sarah and Deep. No and no! Self-publishing: It is sometimes the only way to go.

  4. Mudin. The readers will “get it” as they read him. One of the books I read has a blonde, blue-eyed American ex-military man with a Hispanic name and he speaks perfect Arabic (amongst other languages).. The multi-juxtaposition causes for some interesting incidents.

  5. Congratulations on finishing book 2, and happy-happy book 3!

    Names are so weird. I usually go for the “stumble over it somewhere in the internet” method, which sometimes means I have a character who has one name for three chapters, then I have to search and replace it after I find the “real” name. I think it’s better to change things when you are near the beginning of the discovery process than to have someone say, “Hey, isn’t that the name of a famous baseball player?” when you are almost done. A name can really transform a character. I find the new name often reveals hidden depths.

    I’m not crazy about Mudin, and I can’t tell you why. I did a quick google and didn’t find much info in the hits, except it’s an Indonesian name, which makes sense upon reflection. If they aren’t the biggest Muslim population, they are one of the fastest-growing, IIRC. Marwazi seems to me to be vaguely Persian . . . . Again, I can’t tell you why I think that. (Marwazi ALSO comes up in the hits as being most common in Indonesia. Hmmm. But also, Persian, as in “people from Merv.” Which makes me laugh!)

    Anyway, I like the double mmms, especially if he is a yummy hero! Jamal Marwazi has a very jaunty feel to it that I think Mudin lacks. (Why? Probably the ending sound, and also Mudin can be read as mud-in.)

    I’d go with Marwazi, at least for now. (-: You may find a better idea later.

    • Thanks for all your confirming research, Michaeline! I agree with you totally that it’s very disorienting to change names toward the end of the book. I learned this the hard way many years ago, when I created a Romanian villain and didn’t google the name until the final proofread—and discovered a Czech with that name is a world-famous humanitarian, friend of Bill Clinton, etc. Oops.

        • Sorry, I misread it.

          I do like looking up the meanings of names. It’s really funny to see what my ancestors called themselves. One name in my ancestry is close to “Haluska” which means a short noodle. I was quite happy with that for some time — I like noodles, myself. But then a different site suggested that it was a person with a growth on their face that looked like a wet noodle. Ugh. Not nearly as cool, but possibly important genetic information. If I ever have a noodle-like growth on my face, I’ll get it checked out immediately.

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