This week Deana asks: “How do you choose names for your characters?”
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I choose them carefully because I've gotten into the problem before about too many similar sounding names....Jim and James, Mary and Missy, that kind of thing.
I often look at the Social Security lists of most popular names bydecade, based on the decade in which the character was born. It's online, and it is really handy for getting the names to match the characters.
For each book, I make lists of the first names and also the last names I use, to make sure none start with the same letter--which can get confusing to readers....an Annie, Amy and Andrea would boggle the mind!
I Google my character names (first and last combinations) to make sure I haven't inadvertently used the name of someone well known...which would be distracting. And finally, though my stories are set in or near small towns, or in ranch country, I always use fictitious names for these small towns to make sure I haven't inadvertently used the name of someone who really does live in, say, Stillwater MN. Though there are disclaimers at the beginning of novels ("this is fiction....these characters are not real, etc) readers can still get the wrong idea.
I became even more careful after receiving a letter years ago from an irate woman who asked WHY I had used her husband as a villain, because he was a very nice, kind, upstanding man!
I keep a baby name book on my bookshelf, but I don’t use it very often. An old telephone book and a high school yearbook that reflects the nationalities of the local people is very helpful for me. I also love to make up names. My favorite was Nimrod Rabideau, an Adirondack hermit. I picked Nimrod because he was called a “mighty hunter” in the Bible, but I later learned that ol’ Nimrod wasn’t one of the Bible’s nicest people. Too late, he was already named, so I had my character lament this.
I know that some of my colleagues use specific applications andwebsites that help them do this. I’m afraid I don’t. I usually try to pick a name that fits the character. I want to avoid, if possible, characters with similar names—even the first initial of the name. Sometimes I figure out the approximate year my character was born, then look at a list of the most common male and female names from that year. And, of course, I try to avoid names that have been in the news, especially those with bad vibes associated. For instance, I don’t think I’ll name one of my characters Hannibal.
Richard L. Mabry, MD
Ha! I love E.E. Kennedy's Nimrod story!
I follow along with what Dr. Mabry does. Though I have looked for surnames from particular nationalities.
I also try to choose names for my leads that have a deeper meaning—an insight into their character, fears, or goals. I do find that I'm rather partial to J as the first initial for my heroes. Is that crazy? I've used Jay, Jason, Jeremy, James, and Justin. I also tend to have at least one main character name begin with a D. There's something about the rhythm or the percussion of those sounds, I guess. (I have no J or D family members except a nephew. Go figure!)
Like Marji, I have to be careful. I seem to like names that start withM. In my upcoming book, FATAL FROST, the two main characters are Mercy and Mark. In this instance I left it this way because I just knew these were their names. But then I went through the rest of the story to make sure there weren’t any more M names. Of course, there were, and I had to change them. Sigh.
I’ve used telephone book, names from books on my shelves, but most of the time names pop into my head rather easily. I have used real names – even held contests to pick names for upcoming books – but I only use them for the “good guys.” Never for a villain.
Sometimes I like to surprise my friends and slip their names into books. They get a laugh over it. For example, in my novel THERE GOES SANTA CLAUS, I included this: “In the second grade, Debbie Dunagan told me that I was so bad Santa would never bring me anything.” Debbie is a dear friend, and I never told her I’d used her name in the story. I let her find it. She was surprised to say the least!