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Monday, October 10, 2011

Naming Characters

I've been working on several outlines lately, and one of the most time-consuming things for me is picking the right names. Names always carry with them a set of expectations. Sometimes I like to break those expectations (like in LOSING FAITH, I used Tessa--a name I would normally think of as a soft name--for the tough chick in the novel).

A big problem I have when choosing names is that I'm from a different generation than most of the characters I write about. In each novel I write, there's usually at least one name that has to be updated into this decade. In NEVER ENOUGH, it was the older sister's best friend, originally Susan, which I updated to Jasmine.

Here's another stumbling block: names that sound or look too much alike on the page. In NEVER ENOUGH, one of the main character's names is Marcus. That was fine until the mom of the protagonist--Marcia--came into the picture. Worse, yet, my protagonist was originally calling her mother by her first name! She's now referred to as "Mom" through most of the book, and "Beth" on odd occasion.

A few other things I try to keep in mind are not having too many names starting with the same letter, watching out for rhyming names, varying the length of names (too many four-letter names, for example, can get confusing).

I don't have too much problem changing names in later drafts of books if it's a secondary character. But for main characters, I shudder at the thought of having to change their names. So I try really hard at the outlining stage to at least nail down a protagonist, antagonist, and love interest name that I'm really happy with .

My biggest aim with my MC is to make sure it's a likeable name that won't get annoying over time, and will be memorable. One of my critique partners had the most likeable names EVER for her MC and love interest (not sure if she'd want me to disclose them or not) but I always use these names as kind of a measuring stick when I'm thinking up my own character names.

So I'm curious...what are some of the most likeable, memorable character names you've read?

Here's a list of a few of my favorites in published fiction that I can think of off the top of my head (which have been done, so I wouldn't use these, but I always think of these, and what makes them likeable when I'm brainstorming). These are in no particular order:


There are many more, but that's just the top of my head list. What do you think makes a name likeable and/or memorable? Or do you think the name doesn't matter and it's only the character development that matters?


  1. I think character names are just as important as character development. you want something that is going to stick in your reader's mind. I've muddled over my protag's name for a long time. Still not sure if I like it but it's been that way for so long, the idea of changing it seems rather sad. I like your choices, especially Jackson. Nice.

  2. I totally think the name matters and sometimes worry that I spent too much time with it in revisions. It's so good read your process--works for me! Thanks for sharing.

  3. My thing is names that sound too alike. I can't tell you how many times I've said "Eye of Saruman." Names for the important people just come to me. The rest get stolen from my students, from my friends, from movie credits, from my fave singers...

  4. I actually research meanings of names for characters when appropriate. I think about the nationality or heritage of the family as well - also where the story takes place. Phone books are a favorite place for cool names.

    Names have to fit the person for sure.