Wednesday, September 16, 2009

How do you name your characters?

My MG novel had two girl protags named Anna and Claire. Anna is THE main character, Claire is her best friend and is in the novel from beginning to end. I always wanted to name one of my characters in one of my books Claire. And it really fit good in the novel that I just finished. Claire was Claire. But I really had a lot of trouble settling on Anna's name. Which now, I can't imagine her having any other name. Anna is Anna. But I went through a lot of names, even Claire for the main character. Claire was the best friend. It was a feeling I had. I finally thought about my Irish grandmother. Her name was Anna and she was a strong little lady. So the Anna was given to my girl.

How do you pick the names for your books? I really want to know. I find it interesting. My new novel has a boy for a main character, Michael. And I went around and around with that too. He was originally Jack. Jack ended up being his stepfather. The names tell me where they want to go as the characters are becoming more real to me. I do believe that if you're writing a book like historical fiction that you need to check and see what names were popular in your time period. And I read that the names Brian, Keith, Gary, Christine,(care to weigh in Chris) Sharon, Carol and Linda should only be used for characters over forty. In other words those are the names of parents or grandparents for those of us writing for children.

What say my pals in the blogosphere? :)


  1. Well, it all depends on the book. Sometimes, names just come to me and I write a story. Other times, not so easy.

    For example, Margarita Nights is a nifty little novel set in Nashville about a group of friends who meet for margaritas and are having some drama queen moments in their life. This is the fictional world. The real world . . . Scott goes out for margaritas with his friends, in Nashville, and . . . Yes, the lines blur and I had to be very careful with the names I picked. I liked the name Jack - oops, can't use it, know 2 people named Jack. I liked the name Eric - oops, can't use it, know 2 people named Eric. And so the dilemma went with this particular book because it was set in the town I live and because it dealt with my 'people'. Normally though, it's not that hard.

    Another example - glimmer of an idea, start writing, but no names. Yes, no names, just characters as in . . . The Queen, The Young Maiden, The Husband, The Stepson, The Dragon Queen, The Missing Prince. I wrote about two chapters before I began to figure out names for the characters. I used Greek names, baby book, and the names had to have the qualities I conceived of for my characters.

    Then, like you, there are times that a name comes to me - Ophelia - and I want to write a story about her. In fact, I've written two different stories about a character named Ophelia. Go figure.


  2. I want to know how you name your kids. My hubby and I are having a...debate over the girl name. We had decided on one. My grandmother and great-grandmother were named this and I almost was myself. It's very special to me. But when HIS mom heard the name, she wrinkled her name. So, then hubby folded, making fun of it too. I guess he has a doper cousin with the same name, so the name is soured for him. But he'd already said it was okay. Ergo, I got all mad and said we need to name our baby something he won't be ashamed of and will stand up for, but now he refuses to change it. Grr.

    So, I wonder if naming your character is like naming your kid. Something important to you and fits; something that isn't going to be ridiculed.

    Honestly, I don't. One time my writing professor in college wanted me to change my main character's name because it was the same as the name of some woman on a television show I'd never seen. So, I guess you can't please everyone. Just make sure you please yourself.

    On another note, I'm 29 and named Linda. But I guess that's probably unusual. I was always the only Linda in school, save for a handful of teachers!

  3. I pick names I like, I look at popular names in my character's birth year. I pick last names mostly from people I know or went to school with. I also do random name generation for some of the more fun names.

  4. I have no idea where my names come from. They just seem right. I did have to research some Irish names for my last ms. I found some helpful websites for that.

  5. I pick through my family history to find names. It makes me feel more connected to my characters somehow.

    And, my littlest one is named Claire. :)

  6. I write fantasy books, which, to me, means no names that would be easily recognized. For my first novel (which was never finished) I used Gaelic names. Some of them are easily recognized ("Kelly," for example) but a lot of them, like "Callan" and "Dagan" are very unheard of.

    But for my current novel I used Croatian names. My great, great grandparents came from Croatia, and, though I never knew them, I felt like a traitor to be using Gaelic names when Croatian names are just as unheard of. So that's where I got the names, "Audra," "Emeric," "Gordana," and "Lativia." But after this book I'm not using Croatian names anymore. It's much too hard to find names that the readers will actually be able to pronounce! No way, after this novel I'm going back to Gaelic names, or Latin.

    ~ Katherine Anne

  7. I associate different personalities with different names based on the way the names sound and people I know who have the same names. So, usually, I rely on that when I'm naming my characters. If I'm writing about a nerd, I try to pick a nerdy named based solely on the short list I keep in my head. When I write about Thailand, it's harder. Thai people all have nicknames, often based on things like what color they were when they were born. So, I have to choose a name that has an appropriate meaning, but also still reflects the aspect of their personality that I'm focusing on in the story.

  8. When I start a new story, I know (vaguely) what I want my characters to be like, so I try to choose a name based on its meaning. Like Davin, I also place importance on the rhythm of name. The meaning may fit what I think I want the character to be like BUT if the name doesn't "sound" right, I look for another one.

  9. Sometimes I flip through magazines and look for people who look like my character. Most of the time I find them in advertisements, because this won't work if you know the person in the picture. For ex. Brad Pitt. But I've found that if I can actually see this character, then I can name them. Titles are entirely different. I have to pray about those!


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