Friday, October 23, 2009

What's In A Name?

**Editor's note: I had intended this column to be both longer, and posted a couple of days ago, but life got in the way, as it sometimes does. Better late than never!

I don't know about other writers, but naming a character is sometimes a stumbling block for me. I have several criteria for choosing a character name in either a romance novel or mystery novel.

1 - Simplicity: I don't want to stumble over it every time I type it, and I don't want readers to stumble over it reading it. Odd spellings will visually trip you up.
2 - It doesn't have the same first initials of any other character in the book: I once ended up with a book that was populated by characters whose named either began with a 'C' or an 'M'. It was confusing to readers, and to me!
3 - It is proper for the time/place/age of the character. No 'Tiffanies' in a Regency set novel.
4 - It has to be euphonious if it is a central character, and I have to like it. I don't mind odd names for secondary characters, but weird names for central characters will trip a reader - and me - up.

So... I generally look online, search baby names lists, especially lists that are sorted by dates and origin. I try different names and think about it for a while, generally. Sometimes the name just pops into my head, but that doesn't happen often.

Some memorable names in murder mysteries? Well, I love Joan Hess's Maggody series, and her names are exceptionally memorable, especially the legion of Buchanon's. Besides Kevin and his family there is Raz, who keeps a pig, Marjorie, and nobody is sure what his relationship with the pig is actually all about. But other Buchanon's include Duluth, Zebulon, Hammet and Petrol.

For writers... how do you choose names for your characters? Is it easy? Hard? Do you have a process?

For readers... do you have any likes or dislikes as for names of characters?


  1. Old high school and college yearbooks! :) A wealth of info there.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  2. Popular baby names for the year the character was born. I also try to avoid odd spellings.


  3. Elizabeth... I never thought of old year books! For last names, I often go to the phone book and look under the letter I know I want it to start with.

    Elspeth... Baby names for the year the character was born... that's exactly what I do! It helps a lot, because it avoids the out-of-synch character names that don't sound right for the age of the character.