I love this week’s topic! A.S. Fenichel asks:
How do you choose your characters’ names? Do you have a system, a book, an app or is it random?
If you joined me from Caro Kinkead, welcome!
When I was pregnant with our first child, I thought picking a name would be fun and exciting. I had no idea how stressful it would be. Names are powerful and can evoke strong emotions. If someone treated you poorly as a child, that name is often tainted for the rest of your life. If you liked a person, that name is attractive to you. When it comes to character names, I feel the same pressure.
As I’m brainstorming a new story, I’ll make lists of names, trying them on to see how they fit. But I don’t always get it right the first time. I’ve actually changed names part way through writing because the one I started with just never sat right.
For my main characters, I want names that are unique and interesting, but not so unusual they distract the reader. I think my most unusual name was Justice in WHEN TIME FALLS STILL. I saw a sign advertising Justice Motorcycle Repair and almost immediately the idea for the character popped into my head—although he had nothing to do with motorcycles. ?
Minor characters are often the hardest to name. If he or she is only appearing in a scene or two, I often don’t bother, because I don’t want the reader to think they are more important than they are. But if they are necessary to the plot, they need a name, so I have to spend some time thinking about it.No Life But This - Excerpt
Anne Bishop (if you haven’t read her, you really should. I love her The Others series) uses the names of people she knows, and then acknowledges those people in an Author’s Note. I did this for a minor character in NO LIFE BUT THIS, but am going to consider doing that more often. For my upcoming new release (sorry, no title or date yet!) I ran a contest where readers could submit their own names to be one of two minor characters. That was a fun and stress-free way to come up with a name!
When I come across a name that sparks my imagination, I make a note of it, because chances are I won’t remember it when I need it! I also scroll through baby name lists on the internet (I like the ones that are listed gender neutral so I don’t have a preconceived notion of the person it is meant for). While I’ve used random name generators (the program I write my first draft on, Scrivener, has one built it), I find those names often feel as if they are trying too hard.
In my current work in progress, I had to come up with a name for an art conservator. I was already using the name of a real museum, so I checked the staff list on their website, chose a first and a last name from two different people, and voila—a character was born!
If I am making up a name, I immediately do a Google search to see who else might have it. That has saved me some embarrassment when it turns out it already belongs to a well-known person - sometimes even one I've heard of (there was a reason it sounded good)!
Now hop on over to the originator of this topic, A.S. Fenichel , to see how she comes up with names for her characters!