Monday, January 25, 2010


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 ( ).
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.


  1. Well, I pick Andrea Scott, for no particular reason except it sounds like a good bold name for a strong person. I usually pick family names for my stories, which is not always good. If a person is born in a certain year I'll also research the most popular first names of their birth year.

  2. Thanks for playing along, Janet! Andrea Scott. Has a good ring to it.

    My family is too small to choose family names, although the heroine of my current WIP has my mother's middle name, Beatrice.

  3. Fun exercise. Names are always the first thing I work on - I can't develop my characters until I know their names. I try to avoid family names if at all possible - I'd rather "steal" their quirky characteristics and use fresh names. :-)

    Using the letters AS - Abigail Stewart (goes by Abi, except with her mother, who insists on Abigail. It's an old family name and Abi hates it.)

  4. Abi who resents her mother's interference. Good idea, Tracy!

    AS comes from my license plate, BTW. AXS, which reminds me of my mother (Anita Sparks before she remarried).

  5. Hi Darlene, great blog. I find myself naming characters after people I know, all in a good way of course LOL.

    But what I totally do not like is names too modern for the era. Like Skylar (for a girl) in the 19th century. Going through family records, I know that some names perhaps considered unpopular these days like Olga, Hilda, Marie--were actually the names for girls then. However, I did find a pretty cool ancestral name, Stella, for the baby girl in my latest.

    SOmetimes I confess to finding a name and having to build a story around it LOL.

    Thanks for the wonderful thoughts.

  6. Darlene, thank you so much for this wonderful post. I especially appreciated that advice on NOT naming characters with the same letter. That can be such a stumbling block for readers. You're the best. Thank you!

  7. I just discovered this blog, and can't wait to read back posts!

    I was struggling with naming just today. I was beginning to wonder if I was making too big a deal about it, but after reading this, I don't think so. I also have the "rule" about not using the same first letter for different names. What I was struggling with is a name for my bad guy (a sheriff's deputy). His last name was "Wyatt" but I'm not sure that's good because of Wyatt Earp. So I'm changing it to a name that's fairly common locally.

    Another rule I go by is that the name must be pronouncable, so the reader doesn't stumble over it. For instance, I just received an email from someone with the last name "Govignon." I can guess how to prounounce that, but I'd never use it as a character name because it's not readily pronouncable.

    Anyway, thanks for the blog!

  8. Good point about the pronounceable names! I named a character "Dina" in my Grace Gulch books. "Dina" was a shortened version of "Bernadina," from the German, and pronounced (obviously to me) "DEE-nah."

    Imagine my surprise when my son talked about "DIE-nah." It took me a minute to figure out whom he meant.

  9. One last note: Paying attention to names pays off! The editor of Prodigal Patriot commented: "Nice detail--having the New Yorker with a Dutch name."