How do we come up with names for fictional characters?

If you think about it, the average novel will introduce about 20 or 30 different characters – from the hero or heroine (and their closest friends/family) right through to all the people they need to encounter in the various twists and turns of a story.

So where does an author start the naming process?

We all do it differently, but put no less thought into coming up with names that roll off the tongue, stay memorable for the reader, and somehow capture the character we’re writing about.

Lee Child’s engrossingly enigmatic MP wouldn’t be the same if he wasn’t called Jack (just call me) Reacher, and how did Stephen Leather take an everyday kind of name like Dan Shepherd and make it resonant through a gripping series? In the latter case, Leather’s use of the nickname ‘Spider’ provided an easy alliteration that we, as readers, instantly buy into. SEE MORE AT:

Views: 244

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Sometimes names just jump into my  head.  Once I heard a name on the radio that became the hero of my series of short stories called The Detweiler Stories.  But most of the time I pick through popular last names or ethnic names until I recognize the character.

Not very rigorous but it seems to work.

Hi Brian - seems to work for me as well!

It's a nuisance.  A whole separate part of research.  Japanese names in the early history denoted rank and position.  Monks had different names from secular characters.  Men's and women's names are not clearly distinct to the Western reader. There are baby names and posthumous names in addition to the given names.  A mess.  I work from indices in history books. (Oh, and yes, they should be reasonably easy to pronounce for American readers).

I just go with whatever feels right. Sometimes that requires some tinkering and other times, the name just is there.

Take a trip to a cemetery and bring someone back to life with your words. Seriously, that's a great way. Or read the obits, if that's too creepy.

Another way is to eat a sandwich. Name the sandwich. Then use it for your character. (Note: Works best if your character is a sandwich.)

The best thing about Dickens for me is the way he does names.  Wodehouse was brilliant at it, too.  I do comic names sometimes, especially for characters I don't like.  Other names usually just pop into my head.  My detective gets his name from the inn at the beginning of Moby Dick (also from the name of one of the crew members of the whale ship Essex--the first to be eaten by his shipmates).  I also occasionally use my friends' names for characters--the state fire marshal in two of my books is named after a friend who's now the chief food critic for the New York Times. 

For my Diana Andrews stories, which are mostly about blue-collar white characters in New Jersey, I go mostly with southern or eastern European names. Her own last name comes from the Hungarian Andrassy.

My other series character is Hawaii County Police Detective Errol Coutinho, and names in Hawaii are great fun. The ethnic melting pot can be seen in the names people have. I'll give a character a Japanese surname and a Portguese first name and then describe him as resembling a Viking, all of which is entirely possible in Hawaii.


Oh, that sounds like fun . . . and it's bound to be a great way to distinguish characters from each other.

I should also have added that biblical first names have also been popular since the arrival of the 19th-century missionaries. The singer Israel Kamakawiwo'ole was an example.

See what happens when you get me started on Hawaii? It's a favorite topic of mine.

My series set in a fictional Western Pennsylvania town has a lot of names from my high school yearbook. It's a very ethnic area--Irish, German, Italian, Eastern European--so the names are a big part of the setting. 

I also scan then phone book when I'm home visiting my parents.

Dana, I'm going to ask the obvious question--do you know K.C. Constantine and his Mario Balzic novels? I always loved that name, by the way.

I only learned of Constantine earlier this year. I've read one of is books. He captures the dialect and speech patterns of Western Pennsylvanians extremely well. I'll be looking into him again.


CrimeSpace Google Search

© 2024   Created by Daniel Hatadi.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service