This week we’ll explore the nuts and bolts of choosing character names—and challenge you to create names of your own, or to share names you have chosen, and why.
1. Choose names appropriate to the region and time where you character lives.
Left without direction, I invariably choose British last names: Johnson. Litchfield. Griffiths. I’ve learned to check what countries settlers in that region immigrated from to expand my national roots. Phone directories are another excellent resource for names. Also, records exist online for the most popular boys’ and girls’ names from the 1879 (http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/ ).
2. Choose names appropriate to the family background of your characters. Named for a saint? A biblical name? A family member? Puritan? Slave? Quaker? Hippie?
3. Consider nicknames and other derivatives of your character’s given name. My character Roger Pigeon hated his given name and the teasing that went with it, and reinvented himself as hard-nosed reporter Rocky Storm.
4. Choose a name in keeping with your character’s personality. The heroine of my Grace Gulch series is one of the three Wilde sisters—in name and in behavior. Keep in mind both the actual meaning of the name (found on any one of many baby name sites) and the public perception of the name (see The Baby Name Survey Book by Bruce Lansky and Barry Sinrod)
5. Choose names with different initials. A lot of writers choose alliterative names for families. Don’t. Keeping James, Jack and Joshua straight from each other is confusing not only for your reader but also for you. In Prodigal Patriot, I change my heroine’s name from Joshua to Steven to avoid confusion with the hero, Josiah. I often create a list, A to Z, and jot down names next to the letter used. That way, when I need another name, I focus on a letter not already in use. Another method is to experiment with the letters on a license plate; it forces you to use letters you might otherwise ignore.
6. Beware of using the same names repeatedly. I named a character in Romanian Rhapsody Michelle Morris and then named the heroine in Beacon of Love Judith Morris (changed to Morrison). The hero’s father in Prodigal Patriot is Ben; I named the hero’s best friend Ben in Bridge to Love before I discovered my error and changed it. Sammy appears in Romanian Rhapsody; Sam is the hero in Beacon of Love; and I wrote another book about “plain old Sam” (since changed to “ordinary Joe”). Help!
Here is my challenge:
Contemporary Your heroine has been raising her son alone since her husband was listed as Missing in Action. She owns a natural foods store. She is overly protective of her son and resents interference from well-meaning family members. She holds on to a hope her husband will return, although it’s been five years. She lives in Maine. If you can, use the initials “AS.” What’s her name?
Or feel free to share the story of how you named your characters, or ask about one you can’t find just the right name for.