I’ve long wondered whether they really make that much difference to the reader or not – personally, I couldn’t give two hoots about what a characters last name is, but I think I’m in a minority when it comes to this. I guess at times it might give some information about the cultural identity of someone, but most of the time it slides to the back of my mind.
For years I didn’t give the characters in my novels surnames. But then people started telling me that I needed to – people have surnames characters should have surnames too, if you want them to be people.
So I started doing it more often, and some seem to spring to life with surnames attached (Delaney Jones for example – that said, her surname is important to the story), whereas others… boy, I struggle trying to find one that sounds right. It just seems so frivolous at times, I mention it once or twice, and the rest of the time it goes unspoken. I can see where it would be different with characters where surnames are used a lot (officials, teachers, doctors etc), but for my novels it just doesn’t seem to come into play very often.
I just had an ‘ah ha’ moment. I think I know why I’m not at all bothered by having characters with first names only – my mother only has a first name.
Of course, she had surnames in the past: her maiden name, her married name. But now she has only her first name, the name she gave to herself, and yes its all legal! There ARE people in the world who only have one name, and one of them happens to be the most important person in my life, and a role model. She is well known, well loved, very much respected. And she only has a first name. No wonder surnames seem unnecessary.
Anyway, I’m coming around to surnames, I am. But I’d like to get some feedback – how important do you feel surnames are? And what makes them so important to you?
Are they more important in the long work than in a short story? Or is there some unspoken law that says all characters should have surnames?
I am thinking that possibly they aren’t so important in a short, it seems kind of redundant and unnecessary to tag it onto the end of a characters first name at the start of the story only to never be mentioned again. But then, I am just one writer, one reader 😉
What do you think?