William Shakespeare’s Juliet asked the question “What’s in a name?”
And yet, writers spend quite a bit of time wrangling with names. Truth be told, I just may spend more time pondering the names of my imaginary characters than I ever did selecting the names of my children.
I’ve developed several different ways for naming novel characters: main characters, subplot characters, and characters who are similar to Man A and Woman #4 who appear in the scrolling credits at the end of movies. Here are four of my naming tricks:
- Name a character after a friend.
Oh, yes, I’ve done this. Numerous times. In my most recent novel, Somebody Like You, I used the names of all the family members of close family friends. Sometimes I use my friends’ first names and sometimes I use their last names. Sometimes I ask them before I borrow their names (especially if I’m using their first name) and sometimes I surprise them (usually if I’m borrowing their last name).
- Figure out what year a character was born and then select a popular name from that year.
If my character was born in 1983, for example, I google “popular boys’ names in 1983” and then scan the list and select a name. I don’t pick one of the top ten. But if I did, I could have my character, who might be named Daniel or Michael or Joshua, complain about how he and his best friend have the same name.
- Use last names as first names.
Using surnames as characters’ first names is a lot of fun! Once again, I google “last names as first names” and browse the list. In Catch a Falling Star, my heroine was very close to her grandmother, so I wanted her to be named after her grandmother. In the synopsis I submitted to my editors, my heroine was named Willa, after her grandmother Willamina. I love the name Willa. My editors thought the name Willa was too old-fashioned and asked me to change it. So, I changed my heroine’s name to Kendall – and said she was named after her grandmother – her grandmother’s maiden name.
- Use names you love – and consider the meanings.
In Wish You Were Here, my debut novel, my heroine was Allison and my hero was Daniel. Why? Because I love those names. When I wrote stories as a young girl, my heroine was always named Allison. And Daniel is a strong name. Some authors also like to look up the meanings of names and use those to select a character’s name.
What about you, readers? How do you choose to name your children – or your pets? Any favorite names from novels you’ve read?