Monday, November 15, 2010

What's in a Name?

Since I'm working on the next novel, I need to name my characters. In the past I haven't spent much time working on this. I would simply write down whatever name came to me as I was writing.

In my last novel there was one character name that I did put a little effort into. The protagonist was named Daniel Gerard Ross and there was a specific reason that he was named that. It's not obvious and that was sort of my plan for that book. All will be revealed in the next one.

He's a great shot, pretty good with his fists, and an all around capable guy. He can be very dangerous. Therefore I named him... wait for it... Dan G Ross.... Dangerous.

I know, I know it's pretty silly, but I had fun with it, and I like the name anyway.

For my next novel, I am trying to put a little more work into my character names. I think it is partly because I am putting more time into thinking about my characters, but also because I think there are times that names can reflect something about a character.

One of my new characters is a child of the sixties, a modern day hippie who lives in the wilderness outside of Silicon Valley, makes her own clothes, grows her own food, and tries hard to lessen her carbon footprint. Some people are going to love her, others, not as much.

Because of who she is, I thought it would be useful to give her a name that matched her personality. Since she was a product of hippies, I thought it would be apropos if her name was a common name used by the hippie crowd. I searched the internet and found some really strange names and decided that names like Moonjava, Snowphish, and Jazzerus were just a little too far out there. So I picked the name Hope.

I like the name because it really fits her personality. Even though it never really happens, she's always hoping that things will go better than they do. Besides it's not such a bad name for a woman.

How about you? How much time do you spend on character names? Which of your character names were picked so that they matched their personality?


  1. I never ever, ever, ever pick a name that matches a character's personality. Ever.



    Fairly often, though, there will be a symbolic meaning to a name. Just as parents often imbue their children's name with meaning, I as the author do that, too. Sometimes that meaning will be pretty arch, and typically it is a literary symbol.

    But I avoid personality names like the plague.

    Check that.

    I would rather give my character the plague than a personality-based name.


  2. Um, my characters just seem to walk up in my head and tell me their names. Maybe I'm just weird. I mean, occasionally I meet a character and they don't have a name to start with, but soon, it'll just pop up. I find that if I sit and say "I want to name you." it never works. Or whatever name I do stick on them gets tossed within a few pages and replaced by the one that just appeared on them, the one that really fits them.

  3. I knew this would be a controversial topic, and I like the fact that people are willing to speak their mind. I'd like to see more discussions with differing opinions on this blog. It's boring if everyone agrees all the time.

    @nevets - this is one of those things that can easily be abused, and with great peril to the book. You don't have to look very far to see some really bad examples, Dr. Goodhead, Pussy Galore, etc. from James Bond movies. In fact I think there are a lot of cases where you don't want to do this.

    But I can also make the case that the name has to fit the character. Maybe not from a personality point of view, but definitely from a setting point of view. For instance if you are writing a historical novel, the name of the character had better match those used during the timeframe of the novel.

    The reason that I allowed myself a little freedom on this one is because my character is slightly tongue-in-cheek anyway. If I was writing something deadly serious, I am fairly certain I wouldn't do it.

  4. I do a ginormous amount of research for the name of the main characters. My efforts decrease as the character becomes less important.

    Popularity by birth date, region, ethic, actual, all can be factors. I also use historical research.

    For example, in one book I have two former Russian Foxhound pilots. I took their names from two famous Russian WWII pilots, only I switched their last names.

    One time I will admit to just being snarky. In the same book as our two Russian pilots, one of the main characters is a polymath with a eidetic memory, a teen girl.

    And I named her Bunny.

    Why? Because having a girl named "Bunny" be the next step in human evolution makes me giggle.

    A lot.

  5. @Douglas - I am usually quite fanatical about making sure my name is time and context-appropriate, to the point of almost always asking myself, "Now, would Baby Doe's parents have been the sort to give a common or a rare name for their day, place, and culture?" :)

  6. This is great post. It gets me thinking about my characters, and naming them either based on their personalities, or by some other symbolic meaning.

    Best of luck on your next novel. :)

  7. I'm with A. Grey on this. My characters usually develop without a name and the name just comes to me. For instance, I have an idea what a Bob might be like and if the name fits... Obviously, our conceptions of names will differ.


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