Thursday, July 22, 2010

Naming Your Characters

Sometimes while reading a novel I get characters mixed up. Usually, it is because they have similar-sounding names.

So, while writing Where Love Once Lived, I made a special effort not to fall into that trap. It's hard enough for the reader to remember who's who. Don't confuse them more with Jane, Janis, and Joan.

I named some of my characters after real people. Friends of mine. The first started accidently. The male protagonist, Brian Donelson, was referred to as BD for much of the first draft. BD stood for bookmobile driver who didn't have a name yet. Later, I reunited with an old friend, Brian Donelson, and used his name. Since the character is likeable one, the real Brian hasn't complained.

Be careful using real names. I thought it would be fun to give the mayor of Austin my sister's name. My sister didn't agree. She said she'd rather not be associated with a character who is overly assertive and pushy, but mostly overweight. So I came up with another name, a fictional one. However, the new one has the same initials as my sister, since I needed a name I knew wouldn't conflict with other names.

Where Love Once Lived has many characters in it. To keep them straight in my mind and make sure I didn't have similar sounding names, I created a database of the names sorted my last name and first name.

If you are searching for a name, let the Social Security Administration help. See: for a list of the most popular male and female names by year. If you have an older character, don't give him or her a name that's popular with children today. Look up what was popular when the person was born. Some names are popular all through the years, but watch out for the more trendy names that come and go.

You may want to check this website: to find what a first name means. This site also provides popular name by country and other name considerations.


  1. E-Mail from Peg:

    Good suggestions about finding names. I used to save things like commencement programs, obits and the like for ideas. I never liked to use names of people I know. I made one inadvertent goof in Death Blade in which the police chief's name was "Cap" Brown. Friends who read the MS noted that back before I lived there a "Cap" Brown was the police chief of Lake Jackson. (my fictional town was copied from Lake Jackson.) I decided at that point it didn't really matter. The character wasn't obnoxious. But you sure never know.... Cheers, Peg

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  3. E-Mail from Betty:

    wow did not know the ssa could help...