What’s in a Name?

Look at this list of names:

Mary Maxwell

Julius Cromwell

Hector Williams

Lucinda Smith

Do they mean anything to you? Probably not, unless you happen to have some random connection to them such as you happen to have an aunt named Lucinda. Truth is, they don’t mean anything to me, either. I just made them up. (With apologies to the many people named Mary Maxwell, et al on Facebook.)

But what if the same names appeared on your church prayer list?

Or they were the names of people you were slated to work with at your new job?

Or, they are characters in a book?

Do you want to read about these characters? If so, in what type of novel?

Where do you think you would find these characters:

Alexa Artichoke

Madison Moneywell

Dominic Avenger

Ruby Sapphira

Obedience Oswald

Winter Skye

None of the above character names are particularly traditional of course. If you give your characters names that aren’t traditional, I suggest offering an interesting backstory for the reader to give the character dimension.

I don’t recommend an odd spelling (such as Jyl for Jill) because it can throw off the reader for no good reason. Also, complex names are likely to hamper rather than to enhance the reader’s pleasure. If your reader wants to learn about Antoninusdiadumenianus, there are plenty of history books to peruse.

Most of all, have fun. And be sure your readers do, too.

Your turn:

What is your favorite character naming resource?

What are your character names in your WIP?

What is your favorite character name of all time?

If the sky were the limit, what would you name your character?


27 Responses to What’s in a Name?

  1. Jackie Layton June 11, 2015 at 3:56 am #

    I like when people name their children after admirable family members or friends or Bible heroes. I don’t mind when parents get creative, but sometimes they go too far.

    For instance, a local lady named her child Story. I didn’t ask how she came up with that name because we’re not close friends, and it seemed like a rude question. Still I was curious. One day the mom told me, she named her child Story because she got pregnant while taking antibiotics while on birth control pills. I guess her mission in life is to tell people to be careful of this combination. Which is fine (except her doctor and pharmacist at the time should’ve told her), but I feel sorry for her child being saddled with that name and story.

    After reading your post today, I’ll put more thought into naming my characters. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Sue Raatjes June 11, 2015 at 5:28 am #

    I love Native American (First Nation) names because they’re so creatively descriptive. My favorite is the surname, “Manygoats”. Yes, it’s real. It hints of a story in and of itself!

    • Jackie Layton June 11, 2015 at 7:11 pm #

      Hi Sue,

      Manygoats? I love that!

  3. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser June 11, 2015 at 5:44 am #

    How about Skye Lymit? Well, you asked.

    The main characters in “Emerald Isle” are irish, and I picked their names with some care.

    Mary Connolly was chosen as a name for an attractive young woman to bring to mind the actress Jennifer Connolly; there’s also a bit of physical resemblance, never elucidated as such.

    Annie Ryan received the name Ryan to hark back to Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan; there’s some similarity in character traits. members of the same family, as it were.

    Mike Trainor, poor lad, had his name picked out of a hat.

    The Anne/Mary combination was chosen deliberately. Mary (Mike’s dead fiance) appears first in the timeline (though not in the pages), and Annie becomes her ‘mother’ in allowing Mike to come to terms with who Mary really was.

  4. Tedd Galloway June 11, 2015 at 6:07 am #

    The Christ figure in my novel is named Etche. A native American name with ties to canoes. I chose Etche because he guides folks across the river to their glorious landing on the far shore. His stature and presence fit the name in a most awesome way.

  5. Melodie June 11, 2015 at 6:20 am #

    I have a silly way of figuring out a name for a fictional character. If the character reminds me of a real person, I take that person’s name, write it down, then I write it down backwards. I then see if that looks like or sounds like another name. I make a list of those names, tweak them, and choose the name I like. Sometimes, I flip letters around or alternate the letters of the person’s first and last names and see what name appears.

    For me, writing MG fiction, it is more about the sound of the name rather than any deep meaning. I will sometimes look up what that name means.

    When I was in jr. high, I loved thinking of names I liked, and I still have the puppy dog covered notebook in which I designated one letter per page, made two columns for gender, and listed names. Who knew that 40 years later, that notebook would come in handy!

    I also have a journalist friend who emails me neat sounding names of people she comes across in her interviews. I enjoyed the names you made up in this post. Playing with language is one of the reasons I enjoy writing. Thank you!

  6. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser June 11, 2015 at 6:23 am #

    Read about a couple with a young son, and about to have a daughter. The boy was named Ed, and the popularity of the Mister Ed TV show at the time made his parents’ life miserable (though the kid didn’t seem to mind).

    They wanted a name for their little girl that could never be turned to make fun of her. So they chose Amber.

    When they brought their son into the nursery to greet his little sister, he looked down with a big smile, and said, “Hi, Amberger!”

    • Sandy Faye Mauck June 11, 2015 at 9:48 am #

      Kids are great namers! My 3 year old grandson wanted to name his brother Amadeus and the next one wants to name everything Roy Rogers.
      Good to “see” you Andrew. Always in my prayers.

      • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser June 11, 2015 at 10:17 am #

        Sandy, thank you so much. Had kind of an evil combination of drastically-worse health (today is one of those you’ve-got-to-be-JOKING! days) and very limited internet access. A new ISP decided to raid our bank account.

        Do…did Amadeus stick?

        Having a multitude of rescued dogs, we had to get creative with names. Thus, Labby the Labrador (well, THAT’S not creative…), Pitunia JezeBull the Pit Bull, Denali The Happy Husky, Megan the Tank, Mister Independent…and we had a Dog Named Tulip. A boy dog, named Tulip.

        • Sandy Faye Mauck June 11, 2015 at 10:22 am #

          Yes Andrew Amadeus became a middle name. But Roy Rogers…well don’t think so. Our internet issues the same. Bad. I had a couple of nasty turns myself. God is good.
          I wrote a whole post for this post and forgot the urls cut the post out. Not going there again. Ugh.

  7. Pegg Thomas June 11, 2015 at 6:45 am #

    Favorite character name of all time Smaug from The Hobbit. It doesn’t get any better than that. 🙂

  8. Carol Ashby June 11, 2015 at 7:54 am #

    The web is invaluable for selecting a name that fits each character perfectly. Since I’m writing historical novels set in different provinces of the Roman Empire between 114 and 122 AD, I’ve spent considerable time researching appropriate names, even for the minor characters. Some of the characters are from the noblest Roman families, and I selected names related to historical governors, consuls, and senators of Rome. There were very specific conventions for what combination of first name, clan name, and family name was used, depending on the social setting and the specific people talking. To satisfy historical accuracy, I follow the proper conventions. For the Germans, Greeks, and Jews, I picked names that match the person’s character to the meaning of the name as found in baby name web sources. The most interesting resource I found is a scholarly listing of hundreds of common slave names found in documents of the period. Hence, the steward, a major character who controls the main family’s vast fortune, is Malleolus (Hammer) and the heroine’s lady’s maid, another major character, is Anthusa.

    I’m writing another story with a half-Siamese daughter of an American missionary. She is Esther Arinya, where Arinya means “beautiful woman with knowledge.” It fits her perfectly. The horses are Ruby (a pretty little sorrel mare) and Chester (not much to look at, but a great cowpony). My husband keeps telling me I should name the circling vultures, but so far I’ve resisted. He calls them Clem and Marybelle and wants me to include a scene from their POV.

  9. Jennifer Zarifeh Major June 11, 2015 at 8:27 am #

    I used family, friends, an ex, and traditional Navajo names.
    It was harder than I thought to come up with names that suited the era, were easy to pronounce and didn’t sound too over-used.
    The MC in the first book?
    Yeah, not hard at all.

  10. Linda McKain June 11, 2015 at 8:33 am #

    The work that I currently hover over bears the names of my son’s friends. I lost my son at the age of 14. He was so very excited abt my book. He checked with me everyday to view my progress. So after he recieved the call to return to his maker I began to use his close friend’s names for my characters. (After I made sure his friends were ok with my name selection). This is my way to honor him and his life. It has also created some great characters, and they fit very well.

    Enjoyed today’s blog

  11. Teresa Pesce June 11, 2015 at 8:44 am #

    One of my plays is called, “Murder at the Castle” – British comedy – and I named the brandy-swilling maid Ms. Harbottle. Grand comedic name, fun for the actors to say. Then one evening, reading Sherlock Holmes, I came across a character of that name and realized that was where I had gotten it. Unintentionally, I swear!

  12. Harold Thomas June 11, 2015 at 8:47 am #

    I am writing non-fiction now, but have dabbled with a couple of ideas for fictional books. My favorite character in a book about political change is a young, but wise, African-American inner-city preacher named Theophilus Wilkins. Theophilus is in the Bible, but probably not that of a real person, being a mistranslation of the Greek term for “lover of God.” However, I could easily picture a pious inner-city black family giving that name to a son.

  13. Terri Wangard June 11, 2015 at 9:15 am #

    Wandering through a cemetery works well for historical novels. I changed the spelling of Jenny to Jennie when after one such stroll.

  14. Janet Ann Collins June 11, 2015 at 9:22 am #

    I use baby name books and consider the meanings for my characters. I’ve known some people in real life with names that are plays on words. Some were deliberate by the parents and others were accidental. Some I remember are Joe King (who writes funny stuff,) Christal Shanda Lier (What were her parents thinking?) and Terra Bell (she wasn’t terrible.)

  15. Sandy Faye Mauck June 11, 2015 at 9:45 am #

    Writing historically or is that hysterically, I look for old lists and try to stay true to that. They are out there. Her is a couple:
    http://www.names-surnames.com and http://www.baby2see.com/names/1890s.html

    I love different names. Named my kids different names and now they are common. Might have started the whole thing with some of their names. Cheyenne, Sierra, Dakota…
    Boy did I get comments back in those days.

    An interesting thing happens when I read. I may hate the name the author picks but I soon am so into the character, that name projection gets lost.

    I hate it when an author picks a name that is difficult to read. It stumbles me through the whole book. The least they can do is have another character stumble with it and get it clarified early on. I want to get to the story—not try to figure it out for 300 pages.

    I named one character in honor of a famous deceased Christian and her character would only bring her honor.

    I picked the main villain’s name because it was the name of a mean girl harassing a friend’s daughter at school. A hard sounding name.

  16. Tamela Hancock Murray June 11, 2015 at 1:21 pm #

    Since I wrote this blog, I noticed a surname in the newspaper — Godbolt. There is absolutely no way you can go wrong in life with this surname!

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser June 11, 2015 at 1:35 pm #

      In the battle for the Ia Drang Valley in the fall of 1965, Willie Godbolt was one of the few African-American Cav troopers involved. he was fatally wounded, and his platoon leader, Jack Geoghegen, was killed trying to save him.

      Geoghegen’s wife had given birth to a daughter, just before the Cav deployed to Viet Nam.

      The incident is sensitively depicted in “We Were Soldiers”, the 2002 film starring Mel Gibson.

      “We Were Soldiers” is harrowing to watch, but very much worthwhile for Christians in its depiction of warriors’ faith (and it includes a charming scene that highlights how one of the children of Gibson’s character – a Catholic – wants to pray like her Mommy, who is a Methodist, or, as the child says, “a ‘Nethodist”)

  17. Lisa Taylor June 11, 2015 at 1:34 pm #

    I use names based off the classics… the “way-back” classics (“The Song of Roland” for example). I may modernize or anglicize them a bit. Tying back (via names) to a “chanson de geste” went along with the theme of my first book and this was a fun way to work in the link.

    Other than that, I look for meaningful names (I’ll even pray about getting the right character name). In the Hebrew tradition your name wasn’t just a tag your parents slapped on you: it was supposed to signify your defining characteristics and destiny. It takes some research, but there are many common names out there whose meanings (or at least some of the meaning) we can identify.

  18. Rebecca Krusee June 11, 2015 at 10:16 pm #

    Forrest Gump is a pretty cool name! http://www.rebeccakrusee.com

  19. Janet Ann Collins March 9, 2020 at 8:34 pm #

    I always look up the meanings of names I plan to use in baby name books and try to choose those that fit. But now I’m working on a Sci-fi about another world and make up names for the characters.

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