Introducing   8 comments

How do you come up with the names for your characters?

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Naming Conventions

I write in several genres, so naming my characters varies depending on what book I’m writing.

In Daermad Cycle, which is a Celtic-inspired fantasy, there are several races of peoples and of course they have different names. It wouldn’t make sense to just select names at random. For the Celtic names, I google Celtic names and then adapt to the novel’s naming conventions. For the Svard names, I google Scandinavian names. Those are pretty easy. However, there are no real-world equivalents for Kindred names because they are the indigenous population of a fictional world. I created a naming convention — paternal last name first, clan name second, first name last — and then I just began goggling names from various cultures around the world. I slowly developed a sense of what I thought the Kindred would consider to be good names and then I set about deciding what my characters, who mostly already existed, should be called.

In Transformation Project and What If Wasn’t, these are stories set in more or less contemporary America. Transformation Project is set in Kansas, but based loosely on the North Dakota town my mother grew up in. The culture of that town is a mixture of German-, Scandinavian-, and Irish-descended people. I mostly troll online telephone directories for American Midwestern towns. I find last names I think work for my fictional community’s ethnic structure and then I separately find first names that I think go well with those last names. I’ve run across some truly interesting names in my telephone book searches, but I (regretfully) choose not to use them as they are because I don’t want anyone with a unique name feeling as if I somehow stalked them.

What If Wasn’t is set in Long Island, New York, and I pretty much did the same thing, although the name Peter is one I’ve always liked and my husband doesn’t, so since it couldn’t be our son’s name, I set it on my main character. I wouldn’t want my child to go through the tough times Peter has been through. The name Ben Anderson actually is a real person’s name, the best friend of a high school friend of mine who gave his friends as much reason to be sad as Peter does. I guess it’s kind of a tribute to a guy I haven’t seen in 30 years.

Some names just come to you. In What If Wasn’t, there’s a character called Grey. He’s the father of Trevor Grey, one of Peter’s friends, and he’s also Alan Wyngate’s best friend (Alan is Peter’s father). He was Grey from about 30 seconds after I started writing the character and I didn’t really give much thought to his real first name. When I wrote the third book in the series, I found I needed him to have a first name for official reasons. Why would a man call himself “Grey Grey?” Well, if he had a dorky first name, that would be a good reason. So, I listed out a bunch of names my generation considered to be dorky back in our day and Melvin stood out. Of course, a lot of those kind of dorky names from back then are being revitalized and coming back into use, but that doesn’t mean Melvin Grey has to like his name. He’s a rich eccentric businessman. If he wants to just have one name, why not? It works for Cher and Bono.

So, I do have a method to naming of characters, but sometimes the method can be a little obscure. Sometimes, I just like a name. For example, Jazz Tully in Transformation Project. I worked with a woman several years ago who went by Jazz. She explained her real name was Jessica, but her toddler brother couldn’t manage Jess. It came out as something like Jazz, so she collected this nickname. I knew Shane’s eventual love interest would be named Jazz before I even sat down to create the character because it’s a name that should be used.

On the other hand, Marnie Callahan Delaney, Cai’s wife, was never supposed to be Marnie. The character had been around in my head for a while. I knew her personality, but not her name. When I wrote the initial scene with her in it, I choose “Marnie” (a friend’s name) as a placeholder, fully intending to try out names for her later. But when I got back on edit, the character had accepted “Marnie” as her name and resisted changing to the name I’d researched and selected.

I’ve said before that my characters can develop opinions of their own and if I try to push too hard, they stop talking to me, so I let her keep Marnie, even though it meant I had to reset Maggie’s name. She’s Marnie’s mother and I knew she would name her two daughters with a first initial that corresponded to hers and her son with a first initial that corresponded with his father’s. Although I never wrote the scene, I created one in my head where Maggie and Jason argued over the name change of their daughter on the day of her birth and in doing so, I convinced the character of Maggie–a very strong-willed woman–to accept her own name change. I also had to reset Marnie’s sister’s name to Marie, but since the character is dead when the series began, that was easy. Dead characters in my novels have no opinions, for which I am grateful.

I wonder how my fellow writers develop names for their characters.

Posted May 16, 2022 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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8 responses to “Introducing

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  1. I use a name generator, pick a first one, keep clicking, pick a second… usually characters show up and tell me who they are. But I am always wanting to use use phrases from instructions, food… Pierce Bag. Dingy Bathwater. Push Toopen. And his sister Slide. Easy Reseal. Juansize Fitzall. Slipry Wenwet. Pleezhold Hanrale… and the potty humor list? It could go on for days.

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    • I like themed names. For example in Transformation Project, there’s a family called Conopher and they all have odd first names. Why? Nobody, not even me, knows. One is Nickle, another Silver, then Kix, and Geneva. Someday I’m sure one of the characters will reveal the origins of these names, but so far, I’m in the dark as much as the reader.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah for MCs they show up with a name. But parts, like hit men and hookers, those I throw the dice until I find one.

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      • That’s kind of what I do, although I also “borrow” names that are unusual. My daughter being a traveling musician, is an endless source of those. She works for some guy whose name is Nickle, for instance. I don’t know if that’s a real name or a nick, but it had to go in a book. We used to have a city councilman here whose first name was Silver. Of course, I couldn’t let that one go unusued.

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      • I walked the dog past a real estate sign this morning. Holden Berg. I flipped it. Berg Holden became I.C. “Berg” Holden. Probably because I read an article yesterday about how many successful authors and nom de plumes as well a business tycoons use
        a pair of initials. Rowling had to borrow one because she didn’t have a middle name! The music biz is a gold mine for names and nicks.

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      • With a name like conopher you could have a ball with fir tree names.Douglas, etc.

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      • You could, but they didn’t like the idea.

        Liked by 1 person

      • 🤣

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