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:

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For me it depends on whether I want a name to have an ethnic flavor or sound generic. If I want an Italian name I just look in my old RI musicians union book. Italians ruled the music biz during the 70s-80s. Sometimes I use names of pro athletes, baseball, basketball, etc. At a writers' conference, I heard Laura Lippman say she did this. But for my main characters the name has to feel right or I'm not happy with it.

For New Orleans sounding names, Cajun, etc, I used to clip obituaries and a weekly column about business folks changing jobs from one firm to another. And of course, there's always the phone book.

I also have a book with surnames for various European countries and given names (male and female) In fact, there are websites that list such names. One character in my current WIP has a Vietnamese father.


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