Recently a fellow author and I were guest speakers at a local retirement center. One of the questions that really generated a lot of interest among the audience was about how we name our characters and where we get the names we use. One lovely lady asked me to list some of the unusual names I’ve used. I don’t have that many but – I have a heroine named Bexley who will be in an upcoming book. The most unusual hero name I’ve used is name is the one I’m working on right now. His name is Shaw – short for Goudchaux (God Shaw). His mother was Cajun French.
Choosing character names is a very personal and is driven by our likes and dislikes and our associations with certain names and the memories they call up. When I was a child I knew a little boy named Danny who was a very unpleasant kid. I knew I’d never name one of my children Danny – well guess what. By the time I was grown and considering names for our second son, the name Daniel/Danny was exactly what I wanted. I’d long forgotten about that rotten other Danny.
Some authors work very hard selecting the names of the hero and heroine. They research meanings, origins, and popularity. This can be very important especially if you write historical romance. It would be hard to read a book set in Regency times if the heroine’s name was Moonbeam. That might work better for a character in the 1970s.
As a contemporary romance writer I have more freedom in naming and I normally don’t pay attention to meanings. The names usually come to me as I’m creating each character. Only once have I had a difficult time picking a heroine’s name. I called her Rebecca, but it never quite suited her and neither did any other name. As it turned out, I never finished that book.
I usually start with a vague idea of what I want my hero to do or to be. In His Small-Town Family, the hero is a war photographer suffering from PTSD who comes to Dover to start over. I wanted something strong to reflect his job (working in war zones)yet gentle enough to show his creative side (photographer). The name Ethan came to me right away and from that moment on he was Ethan. Tall, Dark, brown eyes, a man of few words who guarded his emotions and struggled to learn how to exist without his camera as a shield between him and his emotions.
Next up the heroine. The perfect woman for him would have to be able to draw him out of his shell, and teach him how to love. Which meant she needed to be strong yet nurturing and understanding. I turned to my names file. Yep. I keep one. Every time I hear or see a name that I like or I think might work for my characters I add it to the list. I knew the moment I saw the name, Nichelle, she was the perfect one for Ethan. The name was feminine, different, and allowed for the nickname, Nicki- a strong name for the woman who would save her family’s business and save Ethan as well.
One of the things I always have to check in selecting both first and last names is how they sound together. Ethan Stone. Nichelle Latimer. Last names are trickier. Sometimes they need to be regional. If your story is set in Louisiana then there’d better be a bunch of Beaudreaux’s, Couvillions, and Guidry’s – good solid French and Cajun names. But if you’re story takes place in New England you’ll want common names from that area for you characters – unless of course they’ve been transplanted from some other place.
Not only to the names have to reflect the characters, but I have to make sure I haven’t chosen a last name for the hero that one that will result in a silly married name. Marcy Davis marries Cole Darcy and you’ve got Marcy Darcy. Or Stormy Andrews marries Tony Day and you get Stormy Day. Yikes.
I ran into a name problem recently when I had a plot line in a book that called for many townspeople to have small parts or cameos. I had to have nearly 40 names. Spending time on the main characters names, and the secondary characters takes time, but coming up with 40 random names was really hard. I try not to use names over since I’m writing a series set in a small town. Don’t want to have too many Bills. Bill the mayor, Bill the druggist, Bill the hero’s dad. Ugh.
I finally pulled out the list of choir members from my church and started down the list. One of our members is an attorney so I knew I shouldn’t use the members’ real names, so I mixed and matched first and last names. It turned out to be great fun and the members who read the book got a kick out of looking for the names.
I’d love for you to share your thoughts on names. What are some of your favorite hero and heroine’s names? Do you have some you really don’t like? Some you’d like to suggest? I’ll add them to my list. You might read that name in my book one day!
Elizabeth Maddrey says
Too fun! I do actually pay attention to name meanings. They’re important to me in real life, and I think they can help shape personality. I do also have to struggle to make sure I’m not using all the same first letter though – the first draft of my debut novel had 6 people with L names. It got a little confusing at the end :)
Lorraine Beatty says
It’s always interesting to hear how others create their characters. I had two critique partners a while back and each of us had a totally different take on things. :)
Courtney Phillips says
This reminds me of a woman who visited our church. Her name was Stormy. And she married a man with the last name Waters. Stormy Waters. Talk about unique.
Merrillee Whren says
Lorraine, you’re right. Getting the right name can be work. For my book that is coming out in Jan. 2015, Second Chance Reunion, I wanted to name my hero Shad, short for Shadrach, but my editors nixed it. Guess I’ll have to use that name in an indie book. I don’t usually pay attention to meanings, but I do like to use name that were popular in the year my characters were born. I use the social security web site that gives the popular name for any given year. I have also used phone books and directories to find names. There is also a site on the internet called Random Name Generator. I’ve used that, too.
Lorraine Beatty says
I’ve used most of those too. I’ll have to try the name generator. that sounds cool. I had to look up some Cajun names for the book I’m working on now. We lived in Baton Rouge for a long time so I was familiar with most but reading those lovely names brought back memories. by the way, my hero, Goudchaux- that was actually the name of my favorite department store in Baton Rouge. LOL I hated when it was bought by another retailer.
Valerie Comer says
A project doesn’t gel for me until I’ve found the perfect character names. I use baby name books, but more often, I google the decade in which my character was born and choose links with 1000 names or so. There’s usually something that matches.
Yes, there are a few names that have such negative connotations to me that I won’t likely ever use them. Also, I’ve completely avoided using any family names to this point, and hubby and I come from largish families so that’s a challenge.
I find men’s names more difficult than women’s. Women can be named nearly anything and have taken over names that used to be male, whereas the heroes in stories need to have strong names that aren’t used for women. Makes it tough!
Lorraine Beatty says
So true. I have several heroines who have last names as first names. It’s common down here in the south to use the mother’s maiden name as the daughter’s (or sometimes son’s) first name. It will give you some interesting choices. I have friends with names like, Shields, West, Collins. It’s kinda fun.
Merrillee, I had a book where my editor nixed the names of both my hero and heroine–after I’d written several chapters (and they’d been living in my head for even longer!) They went from Cort and Kyra to Johnny and Jenn. It took me the LONGEST time to get used to the names, especially since I didn’t choose them at all, and Johnny just wasn’t a name I would have used as a hero (at the time…I kinda like John now).
Lorraine Beatty says
Yikes. That is tough. I’ve only had that happen once so far. My heroine’s name was Memree. A name you hear sometimes here in the south. But my editor at the time thought the readers couldn’t distinguish between the name Memree and a memory. So she became Meredith. It worked but one day I’m gonna use that name. :)