What’s in a Name?

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If you’re an author, you know what I’m talking about.

That awful task of naming your characters.

I think many authors have had the exquisite joy of searching through name lists and struggling to find a name for your beloved character.

I am notoriously picky (I don’t know how I will ever name my children if I’m blessed with them). To start off, I have this weird obsession with ‘R’ names, and I’m running out of them. So after using way too may R names, I’ve had to branch out. And I needed to branch out way sooner, because I ended up with two characters in the same book who had names that started with an R.

So how do you name a character?

From my experience, I’ve discovered several approaches to this difficult task.

In my first novels, I thought long and hard about my characters’ names. I had to love the first and last name. They had to sound good together. I had to like the way they looked in print. Basically, they had to be perfect. I’m usually not too interested in the meanings of names, but once I had to find a name for a kid that meant something important. And that was hard. (Naming kids, in general, is even harder for some reason. Maybe because I feel as if the characters have to give a valid reason to name their kid something. I don’t have to justify naming my character Devereaux. Because there is no justification for that many vowels in one man’s name.)

Anyway, this method of searching for perfection didn’t last long, because I only had a few favorite names. (But now they’re most certainly not my favorite names.)

Then comes the next method. And this one’s sneaky.

It’s the whole “Hey, what if this side character I just randomly named becomes the main character for the next book?” That’s easy on the naming part (except when you’re like me and unknowingly name a side character something kind of weird. Then you just have to roll with the punches and type an interesting Slavic name hundreds of times.) At this point, you don’t really worry about the last names any more. Anything will do – the character’s name is already settled!

After you run out of available side characters or start a new series, you get desperate and start stealing from other people. (Not literally stealing, because that’s against one of the Ten Commandments. More like taking other people’s good ideas and repurposing them.) My favorite way to do this is reading other peoples’ books. (Disclaimer: this can be dangerous, because you don’t want to accidentally turn your character into this other character whose name you just stole. I did that once in my very early days of authorhood. I prefer to forget about that instance.) But if you can avoid that pitfall, this is a good method. I’ve done this several times … I think just seeing the name in print in a real book is convincing. Also, don’t be afraid to take villians’ names, too – I’ve done that. Redeem those good names!

Eventually, though, you will get to the accepting stage. Sometimes a name pops into your head, and you take it. No more deliberating over what it looks like or sounds like or means. You simply don’t have the strength to work up another name. Or, worse yet, someone jokingly suggests a name, and you just use it. I think that’s around the stage I’m at. (Actually, right now, I hardly remember my characters’ names because editing has scrambled my brain into oblivion.)

How do you name your characters? Do you have a favorite letter for names? (And do you have any cool R names for me to borrow?)

9 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?

  1. There are a few lucky times when my characters actually come with a name, like Rina (thank you, God)…but most of the time, I spend hoooouuuurs scrolling through Behind the Name, trying to find the name that has the perfect origin, perfect meaning, perfect pronunciation, etc., etc. I am OBSESSED with name origins and meanings, so there is always some kind of significance in every character’s name. (Except for Elliot’s…I literally named him after Larry the Cucumber’s character in The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything. What can I say? It fits!)

    And I LOVE R and D names!! I’m just drawn to them for some reason. Oh, and you’re more than welcome to borrow Rina and Riordan. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Right, it’s such a difficult process!! And it’s the best when someone just comes with a name. Thank the Lord indeed!
      But that’s so cool you always have significance behind each person’s name. Now I’m going to begin puzzling over everyone’s names in Held Captive … And hey, names can come from unlikely places, right? I like Elliot’s name. 🙂

      Ah, I’m glad I’m not just crazy! I think R (and D, too) just look … strong, I guess? Oooh, yes, thank you! Rina has left such a definitive impression on my mind, so I don’t think she could be anyone other than herself. No matter how hard I’d try, she’d want to turn into a lady pirate, hahahaha. 🙂 That’s also an issue – associating someone very strongly with a name. Ah, the trials of an author …

      Liked by 1 person

      • It is! Thanks! Haha, have fun figuring it out! 😉 They certainly can! Thank you! 🙂

        You certainly aren’t crazy! Yeah, I think that’s it. You’re welcome! Well, I guess that’s a good thing! LOL! No kidding!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I honestly don’t really care about name meanings for my characters. I just name my characters after friends, family and sometimes audio dramas, movies, books, ect. I tried to look up several characters’ names meanings (if that makes sense 😉) and it just doesn’t work for me. The meanings make no sense for the character’s personality.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, yes! I feel like authors can overthink character names a lot (as I have many times.) And that’s so cool you can just take a lot of names you hear and use them for your characters! I struggle using names that are the names of people I know well or characters that are super established in my mind. Otherwise, they kinda turn into those people/characters, haha! But that’s amazing how many sources you can pull from for your characters’ names. 🙂


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