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?
Krista Phillips says
Okay, funny name story.
My first ever book I write, my heroine’s name was “Jenny.” She is a mostly quiet girl who is riddle with lots of fears, so I wanted a simple,, super plain name for her. The theme revolves is her “coming out of her shell” a bit (okay, a LOT)
Her hero’s name was Jackson, nicknamed Jack, because a friend of mine’s little boy at the time was named Jackson, and I LOVE a hero named Jack. You can’t have a name like that and not think “handsome.”
I know there are some who frown upon same-first-letters-of-names but I laugh at rules like that.
But then, after I’d fallen in love with the names and finished the book, someone mentioned to me,…
Uh… Krista? You do know a “jack” and a “jenny” are the names of girl and boy donkey’s right??
No, no I did not realize that.
Holy canoli, it made it even BETTER though since I write humorous romance. I’m determined to edit that story someday to make it publisher and somehow figure out how to make the donkey joke in the book.
Beth Vogt says
Oh. My. Word. I have never heard that, Krista!
And you write some of the best humorous romance!
Valerie Comer says
I do believe I’ll take credit for educating you on that one, Krista! And I hope that story does see the light of day. I really enjoyed critiquing the first few chapters way back when.
I love the name game. I have a book that I keep my favorite names in. Then I check them off when I use them in a book. Some of my favorites I’ve used are Holly, Ava, Cassidy, Gabrielle and Tess. For my guys I like Tate, Sawyer, Dylan and Remy. And one of my absolute favorite things to do when I’m stumped for a name is to throw it out there for the people who follow my facebook author page. It’s one of the funnest parts of being an author.
Beth Vogt says
I’ve thought about starting a list of names that I’ve used already. I’m losing track. And I love meeting people with intriguing names and finding out what they mean — those, I put on a list for future use.
I like taking the names of my pets from my favorite TV series. I have had a Crighten and Chiana, Miles, Odo, Sylvestria, Morrissa, &Cassiopeia. I have taken names from colors and things I was interested in. I have an Ebony now and had a Smokey at one time. My last cat way named Amy, I had her for 20 years and she just recently passed. I had originally named her Amos but then I found out she wasn’t a he so I made it Amy. I have written a few stories that have not been published and I picked names from my life and names I just liked.
Beth Vogt says
Now those are some interesting names!! Morrisa? Odo? Crighten?
Erin Unger says
I like to use the social security administration website to pick names for my characters when I’m writing. This way I can look up popular names by the birth year.
Valerie Comer says
Sounds like a great idea, Erin!