I have almost as much trouble naming the characters in my novels as I did naming my children. But writing Southern novels makes it a little easier since there are so many colorful names from which to choose. And colorful equals memorable. It’s a pretty safe bet if someone has a unique name, they’re going to be…well, a character.
Some characters name themselves. They tell the author what they want to be named and there’s no arguing with them. Other times, the name can describe a character, like Beedy Eyes Hickman or Slewfoot Taylor. Some names are ironic, like Tiny Walker, who is six foot four and weighs three hundred pounds. Other times, there’s no rhyme or reason why someone came to be known as Spoodle, or Little Bun, Murble, or Boojay. But they certainly are memorable.
If you want a really authentic southern name, go for the double names. They came about as a way to both honor and appease family members. If a child was named for the mother’s sister, she had to be given the name of the father’s sister too. They didn’t want anybody to feel left out. The Closer has two great examples in Brenda Lee and Willie Mae. I love Eula Lee, Dora Sue, and Edna Maye from my family. Women aren’t the only ones with double names. If you live in the South, you know at least one man named Joe Bob, Jimmy Lee, or Billy Ray. It should be an unwritten rule that Southern novels have to have at least one character with a double name.
And nicknames? Child, nobody loves a nickname like a Southerner does. Whether you give a character a perfectly good name, like Araminta and shorten it to Mint, or you give someone a whole new moniker altogether, nicknames abound in the South, and the more unusual the better. When it comes to a name, which would a reader remember more—Tom, Dick, or Harry, or Brick, Skeeter, or Booger? Those kinds of names add richness to a character and a story.
Men’s nicknames seem to be more colorful than women’s, for some reason. Who knows how someone came to be called Stumpy, Moo, Big Curly, Cotton, Cactus, Howdy, or Tuffy, but you can bet the character and the story behind it is not boring. Women tend to get the tamer, but still memorable, names such as Teenie, Liddy, Precious, Princess, Bitsie, or Bunny. But my favorite nickname is Blister. Everyone knows if your nickname is Blister it tells the world you’re a lazy, good for nothing so-and-so who never shows up until the work is done. You’ve defined your character in one word.
Maybe I’m biased, but Southern characters are my favorite. History, culture, dialect, and expressions vibrantly come alive in books about the South and its charismatic characters with distinctive names. I mean, where else but in the south would you find a person, not a restaurant, named Taco Belle? And tell me that’s not memorable.