Choosing Character Names

It’s a tricky business, choosing names for your protagonists and other characters in your novel. I’m guessing it might be akin to choosing a name for your child. After all, our characters sort of feel like our children, don’t they? And just like with baby names, people have wildly varying reactions based on personal preferences and knowing individuals with that name in their lives.

Personally I’m not a big fan of naming one’s son after the father since I believe it might interfere with the son’s identity development. And when my sister named her middle son Dylan James, I blanched when she told me that they’d call him “D.J.”, thinking that name sounded straight out of the TV show Roseanne! (Now that I know and love my nephew Dylan, I’d be fine with the name D.J., by the way).

How did you go about choosing your character names? Did you base it on your favorite names–names you’d like to use for your children someday? (George Costanza wanting to name his daughter “Seven” comes to mind!) Or did you try to infuse meaning into the names?

For my debut novel With Good Behavior, I did a combination of the above. I tried to be thoughtful in choosing the surname of my story’s depraved crime family: Barberi. And for the son of the most vicious, psychotic character associated with that family, I picked the surname Madsen. (Plus, I love the actress Virginia Madsen and needed a Scandinavian name for the storyline).

For my protagonists I simply chose names that I liked: Sophie and Grant. Imagine my surprise when astute reviewer Ana Josefina Borge told me that she loved how the meanings of their names translated into their character strengths (Sophie = wisdom, Grant = great, tall, a gift). I was tempted to pretend that I’d intended that all along but I did fess up that it was a happy accident. 😉

I’m currently reading Seers of Light by Jennifer DeLucy (and thoroughly enjoying it!) and one of her character names caught my eye: Christian Wright. At first I thought this character would be a total goody-two-shoes, but as I get to know Christian, I’m finding that he is very much a multi-faceted character. It seems her sequel Whispers of Light will explore his layers even more in depth.

How did you choose your character names? What are some of your favorite names?

It’s Monday, time for the Meet an Author Monday Blog-Hop! A great chance to meet new authors.

20 thoughts on “Choosing Character Names”

  1. I had a male character who did not have a proper name and a female character who lacked a surname for 3 years (both are part of the same WIP). Nothing seemed to match until I actually knew more about their backstory, motivations etc…Great names demand that you take the time


  2. Joanna, that's true–sometimes the character demands on having a particular name!Eeleen, goodness, 3 years? The poor man and woman were probably having an identity crisis. 😉 It does take some time to find a proper name.Thanks for commenting!


  3. With my hero for FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE, I knew I wanted to name him Samuel. It is derived from the Hebrew Shem'uel (Heard of God.) His first name is ironic : he is an agnostic, his bruised soul no longer able to believe. Yet, he is the answer to the prayers of the afflicted whom he saves. I picked McCord for my undead Texas Ranger as a tip of my Stetson to the Western Icon, John Wayne, and his character in NORTH TO ALASKA :Sam crossed the majestic mountains to the valleys far below.He talked to his team of huskies as he mushed on through the snow.With the northern lights a-running wild in the land of the midnight sun,Yes, Sam McCord was a mighty man in the year of nineteen-one. I use similar reasons for the major characters in my novels. It makes me smile while I write of them, knowing their origins, Roland


  4. If I'm going back in time, I look at what names were popular, and if the character is of a distinct heritage I like to pick something from that country. Occasionally I dig deeper into the meanings for symbolism – like, I just named a French woman who's a bit of a cougar, and her last name will be \”DeMontagne\” for \”of the mountain\” like mountain lion. But many times I just pick a name out of the air that seems to suit their personality. I had one character that was mentioned but we never actually saw him, and I wanted to convey that he was a bit of a nose-in-the-air stick-in-the-mud so I named him Roger. To me it said a lot without having to say it, ya know? (Sorry to anyone named Roger who might read this. ;))


  5. Roland, Samuel definitely conjures up a Biblical reference for me. I like that you made him agnostic–nice twist. And how cool to work in what inspires you with your character names.Nicki, I'm sure \”Jen\” was popular in the 1980's! I had a million Jens in my class. Good thinking on DeMontagne, and I look forward to reading about your cougar. That's funny–I have a character named Roger too, but he's nothing like your Roger. Case in point about names meaning different things to different people.Eeleen, good to know your characters aren't floating in the abyss of no names anymore. 😉


  6. I can only imagine how important character names must be to a writer, since the characters are almost a part of them (the writer)! I love the names Grant and Sophie too — which works, since we're meant to love the characters! When I name my… multiple personalities… I usually go random — the first name that pops into my head — which usually has some sort of connotation in my life. 😉


  7. I love that Sophie and Grant meant something meaningful, and it was good luck! That's funny.I usually pick names that I like, and that seem a good fit for the story. For walk on characters, I might use a name of someone I know, just for fun.


  8. I enjoy reading about Kirsten, typing bright-eyed on her computer, on a chatroom of her favourtie tv show… …and having to say goodbye to everyone before she logs off! 😉


  9. Hi Jennifer!! I'm a new follower and so happy to be one! I love meeting new people and I just happened to notice a fabulous cover With Good Behavior that I need to check out! Very enticing!I'm all about character names! I never know if mine will keep but before I start writing any novel a name comes, that's about it… just a name! Funny how we all write differently!!! 🙂


  10. Not sure how helpful this is, but my fail-safe is to ask my mother…she always surprises me with a name that fits perfectly!


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