What did you call me??!

Do your characters come to you in vivid multi-color: likes, looks and intentions at the ready? Or do you create a bio? Hack away bit by bit until personalities and peculiarities reveal themselves? And what about the name?

It’s like naming a baby. Only harder. Because if your baby hates their name they can always grow up and change it. A child can use something else, abbreviate, or get a fake ID. Eventually, they might forgive you. But if you give your character the wrong name? It will stare out at you from the pages of your book forever (no pressure :)).

One of my MCs is named after the 18 year old entrepreneur, Poppy King. I played with other names, but this one just “fit”. I like the idea of names being special or meaningful, but sometimes it really is like the character exists without you.

Do you name your characters after favorite people, pets, songs or items? Do you start looking for people to punish, or to pay back? (Your school bully becomes an extra, your favorite teacher? A heroine…)

So, what are some of your character’s names, and how did you pick them? 

Keep kicking ass!

29 Responses

  1. Wow! Thank you all so much!!! It’s super cool hearing about everyone’s process… naming our babies can be a really personal thing, and whether you create them from scratch, use them to punish evil-doers or finally give in because they just won’t stop screaming their name at you… I think we are all really lucky to be able to express ourselves this way (even if we’re the only ones who ever read our stories :))

  2. Hi Crusader and fellow kiwi.
    The names for my characters just seem to jump at me, but if after starting a few pages it doesn’t fit, another usually falls into place!
    It’s the surnames that i just can’t seem to do 🙁

  3. I have a notebook that I write in and every time I hear a name I like I jot it down in the notebook on the names page. Then for each manuscript I go through the names and see what name fits my character the best. I get names from everywhere, tv, radio, real life…doesn’t matter.

  4. My characters just seem to come to me. Sometimes it takes a while to name them. There are a dozen very central characters in my book, because it focuses on a group of rebels. The three most main characters of my novel are Jade, Brigid, and Peter. Peter I thought of immediately, and his name is a biblical reference. Brigid I named, after slight research, after a pagan Goddess. Jade was named Claire for the first few days into my writing, but I then changed the name to make it more androgenous. There’s also some color symbolism that I decided I liked with it, but it didn’t require research. All of the other characters, the names just came to me as I wrote them. I think it’s more natural if you just see the character and put a name to a face. Sometimes, if you spend too much time trying to research and decide names, it seems forced.

  5. Hello fellow crusader! Great post – I love naming characters (and their pets). I gave the surname Puttock, meaning ‘a mean person’ to someone based on a former friend. I write down potential names all the time. Recently I passed two roads, Headley Chase and Vyvian Court – they are must haves!

  6. Hi there! Fellow crusader dropping in…nice post. My MC’s name is Evan. Evan is female. I’m not sure how I came up with it but when I’m creating characters I just play around with a few until one sticks. I do like gender-neutral names and that may be part of my naming process, but not all characters’ names are not like that. Usually, physical traits come to me pretty quickly…personality tends to come out as I write them.

  7. Hey- we’re in the same Crusade group so I’m dropping in to say Hi.
    Names come to me in a variety of ways. I also switch them sometimes. I like them to be meaningful, but not heavy-handed. I love that most of JK Rowling’s names have a subtext without being overwrought.

  8. Hi, fellow Crusader! I love naming characters. It’s probably my favorite part of writing. I do agree with you—it is hard to get right. The wrong name can doom you, which is why I wind up changing my character’s names several times during early drafts. 🙂

  9. Hello fellow crusader!

    I like to use names that I wanted to name our children but my husband wouldn’t let me (there are plenty of those!) In my current wip, I have characters named Holly and Tabitha, both names I would have loved for my children. That’s one nice thing about picking character names, I’m the only one who gets a say in it! 🙂

  10. Hi Jolene aka fellow Crusader,

    I put a lot of time into my character’s names, but often the MC names comes when they introduce themselves to me. More often than not my MCs pop into my head fairly formed, with a name, and take me on their journey.

    On the rare occasion a story premise comes to me first (before the MC), no matter how great the idea, I can’t write the book until the characters make themselves known. (frustrating, that.)

    Have a lovely weekend,

  11. Hey Jolene! Nice to “meet” you, fellow antipodean Crusader. I picked the names of all the main characters in my WIP from the obituary section of the newspaper when I started writing more than a decade ago. Besides being a good general source of names, my story is set in my local area between WWI and WWII, and I was able to see the names of people who would have been the right ages (or not far off) in that actual time period, since they were passing away in their later years.

    These days, thanks to the magic of the Internet, I go to the popular-names-by-decade lists. And now the Scrivener writing program I use also features a character name generator, which is *awesome*. Always fun- but you know, it probably *was* easier naming my daughter than it has been some of my characters.

  12. I definitely don’t use the people I know as my character’s names. One way or another that is a problem. I try to use names that are meaningful somehow to the story…
    Dropped by from Rachael’s crusade list to say hello! Looks to be a lot of fun already! Cheers!

  13. Crusader here coming to say hello.

    I’ve been known to name at least one evil character per story I write after someone who wronged me at some point during my youth. haha! And then I use the baby name generators to help me with other names. However, MC’s are unique and don’t come from people I know.

  14. @Constance – that’s so lovely, I can totally picture her!

    @Di – ooh, King Lear, go you! And you’re so right about a personality building up around a name, and thanks for the link – yay!

    @Tanya – I LOVE those names!!! And I am definitely going to try and get “cripes” into a conversation this week!

    @Sylvia – Kiana is great, and teehee on wotshisname 🙂 Whatever works, right?

    @Lisa – that is so the danger with placeholder names (or is it that your subconscious actually knew the name the whole time..? Dun dun daaaahn…)

    @GoldenEagle – isn’t it funny how something that is totally weird for one person, is someone else’s normal?

    @Elizabeth – I love that (and I’ve sooo done it :))

    @Sari – I’m in Taranaki (mountain, surf and The Last Samurai was filmed here – gotta love that combination :)) My agent suggested I set my fiction in the US to make it more saleable (we’ll see :))

  15. Hi Jolene, good question. I tend to start writing with only a vague idea of who my character is, and they tell me more about themselves as I go.

    Thanks for your comment on my blog. Which part of NZ are you from? I’ve lived in Hamilton, Christchurch and Auckland, but now I’ve moved to Melbourne. Writing about any of these places just doesn’t appeal to me. I’m not sure why.

  16. I usually put a lot of thought into my character names, but in my latest book I gave a secondary character a sort of placeholder name and it just stuck. Later when I had to change it, it felt like it really belonged to her. It was hard to start thinking of her by the new name.

  17. My MC is called Kiana. I started out with a hawaiian name I am not sure I can spell right now. I simplified, simplified some more, and now it’s Kiana.

    My usual approach to names is playing around with them. I once wrote a story with the mc named Wotshisname as I couldn’t make one up 🙂

    By the way, fellow crusader here 🙂

  18. My all time favourite name I’ve used is Death. Don’t you just get and instant visual about how stupid this guy is? War is no better, but he’s smart.

    I write fantasy, and sometimes my cast is huge, so I try to pick names that remind my readers what these character’s roles are. You know, Terror is making chaos. Boysenberry is the cupid. You get the idea.

    I love this post. Thanks for stopping by my place. You want to know something funny, the cripes remark is something one of my characters says all the time, it’s hillarious that it slipped in there, guess I was thinking about him. Talk about obsessed, cripes, eh?

  19. My MC is named Regan after one of the daughters in King Lear. But that actually figures into the story as there is kind of a subtle King Lear theme lying under all the teen drama and chaos.

    Normally I just mess around with names until I have one that feels right. I don’t usually name characters after anyone I know purposely. I can’t start writing until they have a good name though. I am not one of those writers that can just put in a filler name with plans to change it later. Their whole personality builds around the name!

    When I am stuck, my favorite place to go for a name is http://www.babynamegenie.com. 🙂

  20. I certainly play havoc with unliked people in my writing. AND some of the nice ones:-)

    India: i have a girl called India in my book. I used to work with her and she rescued a kitten while we were out on an assignment one day. the kitten died but i always had a soft spot for her. Now i have a very gentle girl in my story called India:-)

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