What’s in a name?

This is actually a funny blog post because I only discovered this by mistake while writing out the character profiles over the last month or so.
There are very few character names that I really really thought about before naming them: Portia Adams and Nerissa are two that spring to mind right away for example in that I walked around thinking about the best name for my protagonist for some time. I knew her last name had to be Adams based on the canon, but her first name is all mine, and led to the naming of her faithful bloodhound Nerissa.

BUT what is interesting is that the rest of the characters were named on instinct for the most part. Brian Dawes for example, was just the name that seemed to fit the character best, based on nothing but it seeming to fit. The same is true for Sergeant Michaels, Dr. Beans, Chief Inspector Archer and Annie Coleson.

I struggled with Dr. Gregory Charles (actually I still do) because it seemed to be a name that was too anonymous. But as the character is growing in my mind, more and more it seems to fit.

The funny thing is that while writing these character profiles I am discovering neat things about my seemingly random instinctive choices. Some really apt meanings of names have sprung out at me from Google that honestly make me feel like some higher power (the God of the Lexicon perhaps) was guiding my hand. It’s very weird, but also super cool.

This has led to planning the first names for Michaels and Archer (who up until now were only known by their titles and surnames) that I will not claim were random.

What about you guys? How do you decide on character names?

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19 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. In the first draft (and sometimes the second), I’ll pretty much pick out the most plain name I can for each character. This makes it easy to remember and easy to search and replace for when I have come up with a stronger profile for him or her.

    I have had some that just stayed with me from start the finish, but those are the exception and for the most part they are pretty random still.

    • I did that in one story and then ended up calling them by a different name halfway through that story! One of my friends who read the piece afterwards had to point it out to me — as in “who the heck is Jimmy, and where did Freddie go?” lol. Thanks for the comment!

  2. Yeah, that is similar to my ‘process’ such as it is… but Gregory Charles, that was one I really struggled with. I’ve gotten used to it, but I still wouldn’t be surprised if I changed it someday.

    • I think in a good inspired piece there are natural rhythms to a story, a context, a location or culture, as well as our amalgamations of friends and family, filteredb th rough fantasy and all this stuff that gets swept up and collects in the minds and souls of writers. sorry, wanted to write more but I’m being pestered by a needy little kitten Great piece

      • Aw! Needy kitten! The family and friend amalgamation I think is a common source for writers. Also, sometimes I will hear a name and think “I have to use that name!” Thanks for comin’ by for a comment!

  3. Most of my character names are references to something, but they are usually either very obscure, or changed in some way to make them unrecognizable.

    Cobb Russwin, for example, was named after the lock manufacturer Corbin-Russwin. The idea of solid, dependable hardware fit the image I had of the character (who was actually created for an unfinished novel and ended up sneaking into this one.)

    Godiva was named for the associations of both the chocolate and the lady who rode through the streets clad only in her hair.

    James Ozryck got his first name from my middle name and James And The Giant Peach, and his last name is because a skip tracer I once knew told me that if you’re going to make an alias you should find a foreign name that is hard to spell and pronounce, because that makes it harder for people to remember.

    Alice Mason was chosen because of Alice B. Toklas and the occult associations of Mason.

    Agony Delapour was a name from another unfinished work, a Lovecraft pastiche that was a sequel to “The Rats In The Walls”. When I needed a creepy villain it seemed to fit.

  4. I like to steal names from people. I try to avoid people who I know too well in fear of accidentally writing them into the story instead of my intended character. I do, however, steal names from people I don’t know well. The people in the yearbook you never really knew well, but had cool names.

    If I’m feeling adventurous, I make up my own names, but that is always hit and miss.

    On the subject of names, I have been searching for a name to a piano piece I wrote a year ago and still can’t decide. Sometimes names just take a while. Like characters, names must grow.

    -M.M.

    • I can honestly say not one of my characters has been named after someone in my year book, BUT I have decided against character names because someone from high school will forever hold the mental image I have on that name. Thanks for the comment!

  5. Naming was complicated for the characters in my first novel, and I ended up using all four of the choices in your poll. (It’s a long story, so I’ll save the gory details for my own blog!) Naming for the second novel has been easier because many of the characters were introduced in the first book, and the important new characters seem to have sprung to life already named – so far without problems. Thanks for a thought-provoking blog post!

  6. Either I invent names, or I look up a name for a specific trait. For instance, Jonathan – faithful. But I prefer to invent. Really like the background and layout of this blog page. Nice job.

  7. It varies . . . most of what I write is set in “real” world, so I tend to pick common (bland) names for my character (Joe, Jim, Ed, Ann, Mary, and so on). Those are all done on the fly, and they are bland so as to not have the name add to, or detract from, the character itself.

    However, in fantasy stuff (which I occasionally dabble in), I am much more careful with names. I look at obscure languages, look for name origins, and still, at the end, I tweak them so as to be (hopefully) new and unused. That’s mainly so a reader does not recognize the name of a friend or relative in a character that exists only in fantasy (elf, dragon, troll, hot dog vendor, and the like).

  8. Most names I use are picked based on their meanings as related to the character. Or sometimes I’ll take a name with a meaning I like and re-arrange the letters to create a new name. One rule: No two characters should have similar names.

  9. Pingback: What’s in a name – part two! | a Portia Adams adventure

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