Character Names

Character Names

Picking names for a character is much like picking names for a baby, except you usually don’t have partners, mothers, best friends and total strangers giving you advice about it. If you want to call your character Hortense Hildigard Schmooner, you can. And that might even be a great idea, especially is the book is for very young readers. The trouble with names is that they carry prejudices. Before I even meet your Hortense on the page, I think she is very young, probably French, a bit of a caricature and hard to take seriously.

Names bloom from generations with stubborn tenacity. While some names are perennials, and burst forth generation after generation: David, Mary, Ann, Robert, some flourish briefly in one generation and then appear only rarely in the next.

Names often reflect age. There is a great book out there on names throughout the ages. But even without reading it, it is delightful, a quick mental check of people you know in different age groups should give you examples of what names are appropriate for what age. My mother’s name was Doris; her sister was Mildred; her cousin, Mabel. There were Ethel, Vera, Gertrude, and Hilda in her family. These are not names common today. Her great-grandchildren are Blake, Taylor, Bailey, and Zach, Kaitlyn and Dawson. A modern young person could wear any of this generation’s names in your book and not create a response in the reader that Hortense is likely to evoke.

Tip: Check to make sure that your characters’ names are appropriate for their age.

And then there is the problem of too many names withgt he same starting letter. When I wrote Cutting It Close, I realized that I had called Jayleen’s sister, Christie, and Jayleen’s boyfriend, Chris. I couldn’t have two names so similar and had to change one. It was agonizing to make the change. I simply could not part Christie from her name and I had a hard time thinking of Chris as Scott and had to force myself to do that.

Tip: Before you become so sure of your character that their name is part of them, check that you don’t have Kevin, Karen, Karl, and Kristie all in one book.

Be sure to make your characters’ names quite different from each other. For example, don’t name three characters in one book Karen, Kathy, and Kaitlin. That’s confusing for the reader. Try instead, Karen, Suzanne, and Nicolle.

When I wrote Cutting It Close, I realized that I had called Jayleen’s sister, Christie, and Jayleen’s boyfriend, Chris. I couldn’t have two names so similar and had to change one. It was agonizing to make the change. I simply could not part Christie from her name and I had a hard time thinking of Chris as Scott. Before you become so sure of your character that their name is part of them, check that you don’t have Kevin, Karen, Karl, and Kristie all in one book.