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What’s in a Name?

by Ann H. Gabhart

I’m at the beginning of a new story. I’ve written the proposal. I’ve named the main characters. No way can I write their stories without knowing their names. And just pulling a name out of a hat doesn’t work for me. I need them to have the right name. That’s not to say a character has never looked me in the eye at times and emphatically told me that if I thought that was her name, I’d better think again.

I’ve been writing for years. Christmas at Harmony Hill is my twenty-sixth published book, and I’ve got a few more on my yet to be published shelf. That’s a lot of characters and a lot of names. First, you have your main characters the story revolves around. Then you have all those secondary characters. On down the line are the cameo appearance characters, but they have names. Some of those I name on the spot when they make their entrance on my story page. But their names still have to fit. In fact the right name is a good way to quickly give a hint of character for these very minor characters.

To keep all those names straight, I make a running list of every character in my story along with place names. That saves me trouble on down the story road when I meet that character again and wonder “Now what was his name?”

A permanent list of my main characters in each novel helps me avoid using pet names over and over. Each book needs fresh names unless I’m letting an old character appear in a new book. While my Shaker novels are all stand-alone stories, I do carry over a character now and again the way I did in Christmas at Harmony Hill. Sister Sophrena, the Shaker journal keeper in The Gifted, comes back to finish her story in my Shaker Christmas novella.

Usually in my Shaker stories, if I carry over a character, it’s something a reader barely notices, but then I’ve also written family stories set in my little towns of Hollyhill and Rosey Corner. Each place has been home to three books about those characters, so my lists were invaluable as I moved ahead in time and wrote the characters’ next adventures. I simply kept updating my lists and adding new characters as needed.

How do I come up with all those names? When it’s time to name a major character, I search through name books and wait for the right names to leap off the page into my imagination. Or I scan through the names in the indexes of history books about my chosen historical era. When I spot a potential name, I jot it down. I usually end up with a page full of names to try out in my imagination to see what fits my character.

And so the story will begin. How do you name your characters?

Christmas at Harmony HillAnn H. Gabhart has over twenty-five novels to her credit, including The Outsider, Angel Sister, Small Town Girl, and her new release, Christmas at Harmony Hill. Ann lives in Kentucky where she enjoys walking with her dog on her farm, hearing from readers, and naming new characters.

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5 Responses to What’s in a Name?

  1. Ola Norman says:

    I’ve read some books that I thought the characters had the perfect names for them and I enjoyed those books more than the books that the characters just had so-so names that didn’t quite fit them. Thanks for taking the time to make sure the names fit the characters.

  2. Thanks, Ola. Glad you came over to check out how I name characters.

  3. Paula Osborne says:

    Ann, I never knew that picking a name could be so hard, like your idea of checking back to the historical era of your book, a good name is important.
    I often wondered how authors kept all their characters straight and sounds like you are right on top of it…with your list.
    thanks for sharing this info, look forward to all your “next” books…

  4. Lora Gowins says:

    Hi Ann. I am currently reading Small Town Girl, which is great!! Do you remember specifically how you came up with Lorena Birdsong’s name?

  5. Judy says:

    Ann,

    One more reason why I always like your characters!