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What’s in a Name?

by Lisa Jordan

While working on my third novel, I emailed my agent and asked her thoughts about my characters’ names. She suggested I change one because having two old-fashioned names may confuse the reader with the genre. So I changed my male character’s name to something a little more modern.

One of the most used books on my bookshelf of writing books is one of baby names. For me, story begins with the characters. And the characters begin with their names. My characters’ names tie into their personality traits or the truth they will learn about themselves by the end of the novel. So when choosing a name for your character, think about the qualities you want that character to possess, then find a name to fit that character. Or think about the lie your character believes and consider the truth your character will learn, and tie the name into that truth.

When naming your characters, consider the character’s age and name your character appropriately. If you do choose to name your modern-day hero or heroine something old-fashioned, consider letting the reader know why. For example, my current heroine’s name is Agnes, who is in her early thirties, but she was named after her grandmother. On the Social Security Administration site, you can click on the year of your character’s birth and choose a name that was popular during that year.

Ensure your characters’ names fit the genre you are writing. Modern day heroes aren’t named Frodo or Chewbacca. And be careful not to have your names too exotic or too hard to pronounce that it interrupts the flow of the story for your reader. On that note, try to avoid overly popular names too. There’s nothing wrong with the popular names, but it’s like naming your child-you don’t want her to be one of four Emmas in her class.

Be aware of the first letters in your characters’ names. Too many characters with the same first letter or first letter sound may cause confusion for the reader, especially if your novel contains a large cast.

Those closest to you have nicknames for you. That same goes for your characters. Although that strays into the topic of POV, consider the nicknames your characters may have. My hero calls my heroine Red because of her hair color. So while in his POV and if he’s thinking or speaking to her, he’s mainly calling her Red. Nicknames create an intimacy shared between two people with a special bond.

Naming your characters allows you to tap into their personas. By giving them a name to fit their personalities, you’re on your way to creating a character who is relatable to your readers. If you struggle with character names, buy a baby names book or visit online baby names sites. Those books and sites offer names for boys and girls, as well as the origins and meanings of those names. Naming your characters is nearly as important as naming your children-it’s going to stay with them for the rest of their lives, so choose wisely.


Married 22 years, Lisa Jordan knows a thing or two about romance. She and her husband have two sons. She writes contemporary romance for Love Inspired.
Lakeside Reunion released in November. Lakeside Family will release in August 2012.

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6 Responses to What’s in a Name?

  1. This is so timely for me — I just found out that a few of my crit partners have been mispronouncing my protagonist’s surname. Sigh!

  2. Great advice, Lisa. I like to use a baby name book as well. The tip about the Social Security site is great. Thanks for your post!

  3. Sometimes finding just the right name takes me forever, and then with some characters, their name comes with my first thoughts about them. Wish that happened every time! lol

  4. Mary Allen says:

    The heroine, a new believer, thinks the hero is wimpy and easily controlled. As the story progresses his great strength of character and purpose is revealed. I call him Randall because while the name feels soft it means wolf or guardian and he becomes both for the sake of his family.

    The men in my crit group didn’t like the name. I changed it for awhile, but couldn’t quit thinking of him as Randall. I changed it back. Sometimes you have to just go with what feels right.

  5. Heidi Larson Geis says:

    What a great post, Lisa! I haven’t purchased a book of baby names, but I visit baby name websites all the time. I love to go search by year to make sure the name I’ve chosen for my character is believable. Unfortunately, a lot of those websites only go back so far. So, thank you for the Social Security website tip. And I totally agree about having characters with names that start with the same letter; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve struggled to keep track of two suitors with similar names.

    Thanks for sharing! =)

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