Sunday, 16 July 2017

What's in a name?

About a year ago, I wrote a post about creating characters when writing fiction. I had so much fun sharing writing thoughts and sort-of tips...that I thought I might do it again! But this time I'm gonna write about...naming characters. 

I have always struggled naming characters. Like, to the point where I wrote a creative piece for GCSE English and when I handed it in I still hadn't named my main character. Instead I'd written name over and over again as the character spoke and acted and was addressed by others...luckily when my teacher enquired about it, she understood my struggles with naming and didn't deduct marks.
I have since reflected on this piece, and I reckon her name would have been Claire. Or Ellen. Or Laura. See? Almost a decade on, I am still struggling! 

For my ECP at uni, I forced names on most of my characters if I'm honest. Only two of them – funnily enough both guys, the good one and the bad one – got genuine thought-out names. But the MC, and some of her friends? Half-baked identities, unfortunately. Although in my defence, I didn't want my readers to learn the MC's name until the very that may be why I couldn't find it myself. 

These days, I wait for the name to appear to me. I do minimal mulling; I don't force it. If I can visualise the character, their name isn't far off anyway. I try not to go back through a manuscript and rename a character, do a ctrl + F + replace jobby, but it does have to happen sometimes. 

I was really interested in how some of my fave authors name their characters. I once saw mega babe Non Pratt tweet that she keeps those sticky notes with names on for book signings, and picks through them for inspo when planning a new novel. Then just the other day she was having trouble naming her MCs but not the book, for once! This led to a lot of fun discussion. A particular fave response was Lucy P's...

A lot of authors have recently run auctions online with charities (maybe the best one ever being #authorsforGrenfell, whoa), and the biggest donor has been promised the magical prize of having a character in the author's next novel named after them. 

I thought I'd take this opportunity to ask some other excellent authors about their process in naming their created characters...

"I start with the sound of the name – for Teva – I knew I wanted something unusual and short with a hard/soft feel to reflect her personality  but I also wanted something that would blend with another name – because she takes over the life of her baby self T-Eva.  I played with different sounds until I got something that worked – I thought I made it up but it’s actually Hebrew for nature! Serendipitous coincidence." 

   --  Kathryn Evans (author of 'More of Me')

-- Rhian Ivory (author of 'The Boy Who Drew the Future')

"My only rule is: never start two main characters' names with the same letter. One time I read this book where the characters the narrator talked about most were Dad and Dan, her boyfriend. I cannot tell you the number of times I stopped, aghast, thinking, 'she did WHAT to her dad?? Oh no, wait, Dan. Fine'." 

   --  Jess Vallance (author of 'Birdy' and 'The Yellow Room')

"I trust my gut. On the whole, names come to me quickly, by instinct, and they stick. So with Charlie, for instance, I wanted her to have a unisex name because in some ways she’s quite a tomboy. I chose Bloom as her surname partly as a nod to Judy Blume, and partly because it’s suggestive of growth - of someone coming out of themselves, changing, and blossoming into an adult … which is what happens to Charlie over the course of the trilogy." 

   --  Chris Russell (author of 'Songs About a Girl' and 'Songs About Us')

"Most of the characters come with their names, but some I have to think about a bit more. For example, I knew that 'Papa S' in Seed was 'Papa something' and I purposefully chose 'S' because of the slimy, snake-like feel. Flight Of A Starling is set in a circus and a lovely man I know who lived in the circus leant me his old books and I looked through those for inspiration for some characters' names."

   --  Lisa Heathfield (author of 'Seed' and 'Paper Butterflies')

"To be honest I put shamefully little effort into naming my characters. The only rule I have is that my main boy protagonists have painfully uncool names - that's how I ended up with Derrick and Morris. Derrick is named after a video game fish. Morris just came from nowhere, and sounds good shortened to Mo. Basically my process is a big shrug emoji - eventually something sticks." 

   --  David Owen (author of 'Panther' and 'The Fallen Children')

'I find my characters' names in all sorts of places. First stop is usually my Twitter timeline, and if nothing quite fits I'll head to the baby name sites. And when I do school visits I always take a note of names I like so that I can use them in future books. I've occasionally used author names too. Basically I will steal names from ANYONE. You have been warned!’

   --  Cat Clarke (author of 'The Lost and The Found', 'Girlhood' and many more!) 


Of course, there will always be excellent websites specifically for naming characters (or babies, I guess, if you're into that sort of thing...). I particularly love the quirkier ones, such as Nameberry ('baby names, only cooler', well if they say so), The Character Name Generator (you put in the bare minimum detail, it creates a person for you!) and I personally love Behind the Name (ace for selecting names by nationality, time in history, hidden meanings, ughh yes). 

Any other writers out there wanna share some naming tips? Feel free to comment and/or tweet me, I'm always looking for a name for someone - and apparently I'm not the only one who finds it tough at times! 


  1. Brilliant post, I'm really intrigued by the use of songs, bands and singers, definitely going to get in on that 😍 Thank you for sharing Xoxo

    1. Thanks so much for reading, I'm so happy this helped you! xoxo

  2. Oh I adore your post Grace! I am exactly the same. I have a story going now and I have 5 friends who I just know I'm going to change the names of soon. I was reading through my 2 chapters and realised I gave my MC 3 different names and didn't even realise ;') xxx

    1. Thank you, sweetie! Oh my goodness, 3 different names? How on earth will you pick!? xoxo

  3. Oooh, this is very interesting!! Most of the names in my current WIP have been the same names since I started and they had come with the characters when they popped into my head. The few I needed to rename I searched baby name websites for something that felt right. I have a notes section on my phone dedicated to names I like from people I meet/hear on tv/etc. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Ooh, I never thought to have a names note on my phone! Genius. Thank you for reading! xoxo

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