Nov 16, 2008

Naming Characters

by Marsha Ward

For a while now, I've been interviewing authors over on my blog, Writer in the Pines. Lately I've been thinking about the questions I ask them, and wondering if I would be able to answer them quickly.

For example, I ask how the authors find character names. How would I answer that? I'm really not sure. How do I find them? Sometimes, I think they find me. It's been a year since I've looked for names for characters, but I do know that sometimes the first one I latch onto isn't right. Then I have to ponder and make lists and eliminate names with same initials as other characters or names that are too similar to the others' and roll a name around in my mouth, and even ask the character if the new name is right before I use it.

Let me illuminate that process. When I was rewriting Trail of Storms to include new characters, I called one man "Hank." However, I soon realized that I already had twins named Hannah and Hepzibah, and another H name just wouldn't fly. It took me a while, and a long list, but I finally settled on "Ned," which suits him better and doesn't begin with H.

Some of my friends know that the main character of Trail of Storms is Jessica Bingham, who was cited briefly in my previous novels. As I began to tell Jessica's story, she insisted that she liked to be called "Jessie." Once I learned that, it was as though I couldn't even type "Jessica" correctly anymore. After she came to me and kept me awake for hours one night, I gave in and did a global search and replace in the manuscript, expunging all the Jessica's except the first few. (I had to tie the two versions of the name together, didn't I? After all, the last word in Ride to Raton is "Jessica.") Therefore, I called her Jessica until one of her sisters addressed her as Jessie. From then on, she was referred to as Jessie, and she didn't haunt me anymore.

Sometimes I wonder about characters. They become so real to us authors, their "creators." They seem to live and breathe in our imaginations. Could they be real in some other dimension, or some past time? Are we really recounting stories that actually happened somewhere in the vast Universe? Or are we practicing creation for some future time?

What do you think?


  1. You pose an interesting question. Those of us who have experienced the flow of pure narrative from some other source know that either answer is a possibility.

    Good posting, Marsha.

  2. I have always agonized over my names because they are important. Could Darth Vader be a better name for a bad guy? It matters.

  3. talking of creators, I think back to our Creator. When He created this earth and formed man and then woman - he asked Adam "What will you name her." This was after He allowed Adam to name the other creatures. Adam named her Eve - "The mother of all living." So I'd say the Creator let the character/s do the naming and it was a joint, successful effort. So we as our own "mini=creators" can let our characters help name themselves. Listen to them and they will tell you what feels good to them.

  4. Of course, all fictional stories are mandated by the author's imagination. I think the naming of characters also flows from an author's imagination. There will be factors, like good guy and bad guy, involved and these factors need to be attended to.

    When I name a character it usually is something produced from my imagination. I look at the origination of the character and the development of the character throughout my story (or their story)and I try to select a name based on that. In my WIP mss I am doing something personally important to me. I'm borrowing names from select ancestors (I love genealogy and these people, my ancestors, are very important to me) to identify many characters. Surprisingly, names are fitting quite well. I think.

    Thanks for the blog.

    Charlie Moore


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