Something was wrong. It was like an irritating itch I couldn’t scratch, preventing me driving the story forward. And then I realised. One of my principle character’s names wasn’t right.

Our characters’ names are important – they define them in our mind, form the basis of the many layers it takes to build them, making them feel real.

When writing An Unfamiliar Murder, I opted for a combination of traditional and conventional for my lead, DCI Helen Lavery. This mix defines Helen: a strong, independent woman with a passion that pushes her to go that extra mile, occasionally adopting unorthodox methods to make a difference, to keep us safe. Yet, she is also a mother, juggling the challenge of single parenting teenage sons with managing one of the most responsible and demanding jobs in the police force.

In the sequel, the point of view fluctuates. We follow the police investigation through Helen’s eyes, and the rest of the story through another female protagonist. The latter is the name that was troubling me. When I first picked it, it seemed right, but as her character developed it became obvious that it didn’t fit at all.

I considered other character names that remain with me, long after I finished the book/series:


‘Professor James Moriarty’         –              Sherlock Holmes novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

‘Lincoln Rhyme’                                –              Jeffery Deaver’s The Empty Chair et al/Lincoln Rhyme series.

‘Temple Gault’                                  –              Patricia Cornwell’s Dr Kay Scarpetta series.

‘Heathcliffe’                                       –              Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights

‘Granny (Esme) Weatherwax’    –              Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.


An eclectic mix. And this is just a quick brainstorm. I’m sure I could easily come up with others.

So, what makes a strong, memorable name? As always, there is an element of subjectivity in our perception. Our brains often link the words in our memory, relating it to someone we once knew, colouring our judgement. Sometimes a name can fit like the perfect glove, and then, as the character develops the glove gets loose, worn at the ends, and slips off.

Choosing names isn’t easy – I always feel obliged to research them – to ensure that they aren’t linked with a major a case in the past, or claimed by a famous actor or academic. I have now settled on another name, but still wonder at the formula that makes those all important memorable ones stay with us…


Jane Isaac’s first novel, An Unfamiliar Murder, is out on, and Kindle worldwide now. Jane is still very much a Newbie and with a day job, a family and a very demanding black Labrador, she squeezes her writing into every spare moment she gets. You can catch up with her at



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  • EditorProofer
    Posted on March 20, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    So true Jane. I do it the other way around as well and find myself subconciously applying attributes of characters from my favourite books to people I meet with the same name. I mostly read crime fiction so I’m probably unfairly judgemental of a lot of innocent people. LOL

  • Jane Isaac
    Posted on March 21, 2012 at 2:08 am

    Hey Emma! That’s so funny. Must try that sometime. Thanks for your comment:)

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