What’s in a Name?

Posted Sep 25 2011, 12:01 am

Character names can mean a lot to both readers and writers. As a reader, a name might influence how I feel about a particular story. If it’s the name of my first love, I’ll probably have a more positive impression than if it’s my high school nemesis. As a writer, I sometimes use the names of people I actually know in order to make a personal connection to the story and the characters.

Take the three characters from my erotic short story FULFILLED which will be released this Tuesday. Piper, Mark and Dom were all inspired by folks at my gym.

There are two sisters, Marcie and Nancy, who call each other “Pip.” (It took me a long time to even know Nancy’s real name; I just called her “Pip.”) From “Pip” came “Piper,” a name which fits my female character to a tee. It sounds petite, sassy and independent. And, of course, her nickname has to be Pip.

Then there’s Mark and Dom. Or I should say Mark and Dominica, an ubber nice married couple who are as generous as they are good-natured. While the “Dom” in my story is actually Domingo, I liked the sound of “Mark and Dom.” Those names not only defined their physical appearance – blond-haired, blue-eyed, Nordic god, Mark, and black-haired, brown-eyed, Spanish god, Dom – the names helped solidify their male friendship for me as well

But I’ve also picked names that hold no personal connection. I may just like it. Take for example, Ben, the hero in one of my current WIPs. Ben is a great name, IMO. It sounds strong and confident and safe. ‘Course if “Ben” is just strong, confident and safe, he might be a little bit boring too. So I put a twist on the name and character to have strong, confident, safe “Ben” be an escaped convict. Wrongly accused, naturally, but still an escapee.

As writers, how do you come up with the names for your characters? And, as readers, what draws you to a particular character name? I’d love to hear from you!






15 responses to “What’s in a Name?”

  1. Great post!
    When I’m trying to name my characters, I usually have to “try on” a couple of names that I like before one will stand out as the right one. I let the scene play-out in my head and then as the heroine “says” the heroes name — and vice versa — one will sound right to me. I like a strong name for my hero and usually name him first. Sometimes I decide on the heroine’s name by what sounds good with the heroes. 🙂

  2. Elisa Beatty says:

    Those are all fabulous name choices! (I absolutely agree on the solid masculinity of Ben!) And I’ve said this before, but the blurb for FULFILLED is fabulous! I really can’t wait to read it.

    For me, character names just pop into my head. Don’t know how or why, but they always seem right.

  3. Great post. For me, naming characters is a process. Sometimes the names just come to me (which is convenient). For my current WIP, the female character just struck me as a Jessica. But with him… oh, how I struggled. I wanted something strong and masculine, but a “good guy” name. So I tried on several names until I found one that fit. And now I can’t imagine him as anything else.

  4. Suzanne says:

    For the bad guys, I tend to pick the name of someone I really disliked in my dim & distant past, but distant enough that no one could guess. Except for Nigel. He has to be British, and the name has always sounded smarmy to me. For the bad gals, I find I often pick a name beginning with V–maybe because they’re Vicious Vixens.

    Looking forward to reading FULFILLED!

  5. Lena Diaz says:

    Congratulations on your new release, Lynda!

    I use a baby name book to come up with my character first names, and the phone book to come up with last names. I keep a spreadsheet to track favorite future character names, as well as to keep up with names I’ve used on past stories.

    So happy for you and wishing you many more sales in the future!


  6. I hate hate hate coming up with names. Ugh. Before I started editing a scene this weekend, I spent about half an hour finding male and female names to use – only to refer to them by their last name, and then completely CUT the scene!!! ARGH!!!

  7. Naming a character is as solemn for me as naming a child. I love playing with first and last names until the combo sounds just right. Most of my characters even have middle names although I rarely use them. Sometimes names come to me fully formed. I also have lists of names that struck me, gleaned from phone books, baby name books and my favorite source: movie credits. My current hero was named by fellow members of a loop I’m on after I asked for suggestions.

    So, I’ll take ideas from anywhere and once I’ve chosen a name, that character is stuck with it for good!

    Fun topic, Lynda. Lots of luck with your back surgery this week!

  8. First of all, Lynda, best wishes for the surgery! I know you’ll come through it great. 🙂

    As for character names, I love this topic! So important, too. One commenter said she uses a spread sheet. I may have to resort to that! When I published my short story collection, I realized that I had used an invented name for one lead and a very similar sounding name for the species in another! Never noticed it until I put them in a collection together. Yikes!

    I also seem to have a passion for the name Tony. It keeps showing up and I have to change it. LOL!

    Get well soon!

  9. Jen T. says:

    Thanks for sharing your process of picking characters names. I have always been curious about your imaginative mind!!!

    Good luck Wednesday~ my thoughts are with you!

    Speedy recovery

  10. B. A. Binns says:

    Although I struggle with last names, my characters tend to tell me their first names. And those names end up being tied to their personalities. I had a character that I foolishly called Linda, and she was a total wimp (sorry to any Lindas out there) and I needed a strong woman. Changed the name to Danielle and got someone a little stronger, but still not there. Then she became barnetta, Barney for short, and I couldn’t make her back down for anything. Not one bit of backstory changed, but a different name somehoe made a difference.

  11. I love you characters’ names, Lynda! Piper, Mark and Dom are all such strong choices.

    Like Jenn I have to “try on” a few names before I choose the right one. Thanks, Jenn, for giving me a way to describe this process! 🙂

    And since I’m writing historical fiction I also have to check a name’s appropriateness for a time period and country. Luckily there some fantastic websites out there that can help with this.

  12. PJORiley says:

    I think you’ve hit it perfectly, choosing names that to your mind have personality traits and quirks. And it would work to align real people with your characters (don’t we all write folks we know into our fiction?). I like to use unusual names for the protagonist and perhaps primary antagonist or sidekick (or love interest). Helps me keep them separate from the secondary characters and imbues them with extraordinary skills and conflicts (so I hope!). Once I choose a name, I look it up to see if it has meaning in a way that assists my story.

  13. After a run-in with a particularly irritating executive, I tweaked his name slightly and he became the spoiled pretty-boy bad guy for my latest WIP. Great post Lynda!

  14. Jen T. says:


    Just had “Fulfilled” auto-delivered to my Kindle. Can’t wait to get started!!!!

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