Naming Your Characters

Do you spend as much time in naming your fictional character as you did naming your child? Do you think writers spend any time naming their characters?

Naming is an important element to any story. The right name should roll easily off the mind’s tongue. It should fit the image you have of your character…or not fit should that be the feel you require. Names come with set images and personalities, too.  Think of the following names and their first impression:

Philip
Michael
Norton
Stanley
Biff
Tommy
Thomas

Bambi
Irene
Janice
Gladys
Cassandra
Veronica
Missy

Now, to clarify, I pulled these names off the top of my head without any thought given to people I know, don’t know, may have met but have forgotten. Basically, for this writing, I went down the alphabet, at random starts, and it was the first name in my head with that letter.

Naming my own character in MIDNIGHT FIND was something else. First pick was “Jackie” and then I became friends with, Jackie. It felt strange having a real Jackie, and a fictional “Jackie.” Thus, the change to “Tina.” Why “Tina”?  I don’t know for sure. Her name did a pop into my mind. Analyzing it now, maybe it’s because my “Tina” doesn’t fit my first impression of a “Tina.” Think “Gilligan’s Island.”

However, if I think my favourite singer, Tina Turner…someone I wasn’t actively thinking about at the time…the name is a perfect fit.

I have another story where my female character is, “Sam.” This was before my nephew of same name was born. Somehow, I don’t think…as he grows up…he would appreciate a fictional female character, written by his aunt, with his name. Or maybe it’s just me.

I like my characters to have names which are different than those I know. Think of it this way…a name without context. One free of relationship luggage, whether good luggage or not. There’s a different topic…writing those we know within our stories, but they don’t know it…for another day.

I have heard of different methods writers have used to find names. The most obvious one is using baby name books. You can match your character’s traits to the name’s meaning. Easily match a name to a character’s cultural background.

I’ve heard of some writers using the phonebook for last names. Most characters need a last name…as I realize my “Tina” doesn’t have one.

There is also the newspaper orbits. Maybe a tad creepy, but given the ages of those who have passed away, it’s an avenue to find a name to match a time period.

Which is another point to naming…time periods. What is popular now, may not have been even thought of in my grandmother’s time. My mom was named Barbara Ann before The Beach Boys’ song. It was just my luck KISS’ song “Christine Sixteen” came out right around the time I was or was nearing sixteen. And you don’t have to guess too hard to conclude my dad, James, received quite a few “Home, James” when we were out and about.

Now for one last crazy piece of information, I do understand others have used this method; however, the first time I heard about it was watching a late night interview with a supposedly famous adult film star. (another topic for another day…crazy, strange, useful information which clutters a writer’s mind) He indicated to find your “porn” name, use your middle name and the street you first lived on. Yeah, doesn’t work for me…my middle name is someone I was named after.

Naming is essential to your fictional character. So, what’s up with your name.

6 thoughts on “Naming Your Characters”

  1. I tend to use "normal" names, picked kind of at random, for "normal humans." But aliens, alien-human crossbreeds, vampires and other "supernatural" creatures, and sometimes witches, are likely to get made-up names. Zythra (female) is of human/winkie descent. Jellisca is a witch and the High Priestess of the coven. Venetia is a (female) vampire.

    But one rule I stick to pretty closely, never use the same first letter twice. I started to write a witch named Jessica, but then I saw that was way too similar to Jellisca (yes this was in the same story, a WIP called "Fortunatus" that I'm doing). Nope, no good … a little thought and Jessica became Tanya … that didn't conflict with any other names.

    By the way, in your lists above, Norton is a dweeb, Bambi is a slut, and who doesn't recognize Biff from Back to the Future?

  2. I have pretty much the same processes when naming characters. *smile* Although, I've had many works stall because the names I chose weren't 'right'. *laugh* I try to avoid names of people I know personally. Because they have their own personalities. Now, I will say, I have a niece -teenager- named 'Alexis'. My heroine -adult- went through 6 names before I finally just agreed to write her story with 'Alexis'. Once I did that the 75K piece was completed in 3 days. Talk about shock! So that rule changed for me. If in the end the character 'knows' its name, I give in and let them have that name. Luckily they aren't exactly like their 'real life' counterparts. *grin* Now, my niece? She thinks it's the greatest thing in the world to have one of my characters named for her. Even my nephew -a different work- thought it was awesome -I think his words were- he had a fictional person carrying his name.

    Those names that have such a 'bad rep' like Jim mentioned with 'Bambi is a slut' I try to avoid them as much as possible. However, that's not easy. *laugh* But I take that into consideration when naming my characters. *grin*

    Great post!

  3. Great post. It's amazing how we come up with names. I often use the SS names from certain years, I like to see which names were popular the year my characters were born. I also use my grandchildren's names (for the hero/heroine of course). I used a cemetery that listed names for some of my last names and I have used the phone book a few times. By the way, Marie Bennigton (my middle name and street I lived on) doesn't sound like a porn star to me. But it gives me an idea for a character. Funny how a name can spark an idea.

  4. Jim…thank you. Would love to read more about how you come up with the alien names. That is something I need more advice on. Will contact you with an idea.

    Oops, I forgot Biff was in Back to the Future.

  5. Alix…thank you. And you may have just hit the nail on the head why I'm having problems with my current WIP…my fingers stumble when I type her name.

    Need to add another quick thank you to Jim (and yourself, Alix) I had forgotten the keeping to one name with each starting letter. Plus, as Jim had with Jessica and Jellisca…similar sounding names.

  6. Roseanne…thank you. Marie Bennigton reads like a great character name. My "last" name would have been either Concession or Fennell.

    Glad to be a small part in sparking an idea. Dang, wish I could use that name. Just realized, none of my characters have last names. Need to work on that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *