How Do You Name Your Characters?

I use The Writer Digest Character-Naming Sourcebook especially for ethnicity, interesting first names I've seen as writer's pseudonyms, names I've come across in genealogy searches--super for historicals (check out to see what names were popular when), google searches for a particular popular name for a certain ethnic group, baby naming guides on the Internet or in books.

Usually I have an idea what I want in the very beginning, but sometimes I have to change names if they sound too similar or start with the same letter so I don't confuse readers. Jake, Jack, Jock

Sometimes, if I've had a bad experience with someone, that name becomes my villain's name. Most often though, the name is chosen for its villainous quality—Crassus and Bruin for the bad lupus garous in Don’t Cry Wolf, Volan in Heart of the Wolf.
Devlyn, Heart of the Wolf

I try to make my name consistent with the character--a wimpy guy wouldn't be called Brutus or Hunter. A fairylike woman wouldn't be called Peg. The wrong name can jar the reader.

Devlyn is the hero in Heart of the Wolf—to me he sounds devilish, roguish. Bella is the heroine, old world feel to the name, also different, and since they live so long, it appealed.

Using the right name, can add a bit of characterization! Using the wrong name can give a wrong impression.

Have you ever read a book where you cringe every time you read a name because it just doesn’t suit the character? Sometimes it’s impossible to please everyone. I met a guy who said his ex-wife’s name was Terry, but he wouldn’t hold it against me. Everyone has bad experiences with someone during their lives, so any name can have a negative connotation to someone out there. All we can do is come up with the best name we can.

In one book, the names were so complicated, I stumbled over them all the time. Make them simple enough that your reader doesn’t have that much trouble. Not only did I stumble over the names, it was hard to keep track of who was who. Not good.

Not that a writer can’t go for something that isn’t usually done. But somehow I just can’t see a strong virile Timothy, or can you imagine Captain Bligh named Marion?

How do you come up with names for your stories?

Terry Spear, Heart of the Wolf (April 08), Don't Cry Wolf, Sourcebooks,


Vonda Sinclair said...

Wonderful post, Terry! I love naming characters (or anything else, like pets.) I have a baby name book I use a lot for characters. Also I do searches online for the many Scottish names I need. I'm compiling quite a list. The name must feel right and fit the character's personality, like you said. Even better if it adds another dimension to the character. I like unusual names but ones that are easy to pronounce and remember. I always try to have all names in a story start with a different letter. Prevents confusion. And I always appreciate that in the stories I read too. I remember a recent book I read where the hero's title name and the heroine's last name began with the same letter, were the same length and were a bit similar. It confused me a few times until I concentrated hard to remember which was which. It pulled me out of the story.

ShawnaMoore said...

Hi, Terry!

Names and titles are something I match closely to the characters and story. Those fictional folks won't settle for just any name, and it's always fun pairing them with a name that matches their personality and is as unique as they :)

Have a great week!


Carol Ericson said...

Terry, sometimes I start with a character's name and then change it after a few chapters because it just doesn't feel right for that character. Also, I find that I get on a roll with the same letter, so that all of a sudden I have several characters with last names that begin with B. Then I have to start changing those. For The Stranger and I, I chose Justin Vidal for the hero because I love the name Justin and he's a character who wants justice. Vidal comes from a character in a Georgette Heyer book.