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What’s in a Name?

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How do you decide on a name for the fictional characters you write about? I thought about my own process of choosing names – it varies, and it’s complicated.

I might search for a name by thumbing through an old phone book (a good reason to keep the one they throw at the end of the driveway) to find interesting combinations. I don’t use one complete directory listing (first and last name) in case that character gets into trouble and the real person doesn’t want to be blamed for it. I flip around, find a last name here, a first name there, and see how they sound together. Then I do a Google search to see if someone with that name actually exists. If they do, then I go back and keep combining. I know I may not be able to choose a name for a character that does not exist in our world, but so far I’ve been pretty lucky. If you can’t avoid an exact match, changing the spelling might solve the problem.

I bought a couple of baby-naming books – they’re helpful if you want to find a popular name from a certain time period, etc. They also give the meaning of the name, which might be something you want to capitalize on.

There are listings online for names of people in different parts of the world. I did a recent search to name characters from Scotland and Japan.

A relationship (good or bad) could be the trigger for naming a specific character. In my middle-grade mystery, the antagonist is named after a nasty, two-faced person I had the displeasure of working with – a perfect fit. I pull traits and characteristics from people I know in real life and give them to my characters. Maggie is more of an introvert, her friend Laura is the absolute definition of an extrovert. I can write introverts. Extroverts are harder, because I’m not one. So I have to sit back and observe, then insert those traits and mannerisms into what Laura looks like, how she speaks and moves, and what things are important to her.

The names of my characters are much more than identifiers. They reflect who they are, where they come from, and something about their personality. Names can be soft-flowing off the tongue, or harsh and sharp. I use that to my advantage when choosing a name for a character.

I have a T-shirt that reads, “Careful, you could end up in my next novel.” Truer words were never heat-stamped.


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Anne has received numerous awards for her imaginative storytelling and hopes you will "drop in" and visit from time to time at her website as her literary journey continues.

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One Response

  1. Pete Skiba
    | Reply

    My old buddy Pete Dexter thought up the name for his novel and its character by posing himself two questions– City? Paris. Fish? Trout.

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