Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Name Game

What’s in a name?

You know - when it comes to people’s stories. How do we get household fixations like Edward Cullen or Stephanie Plum? Is there as much magic to picking a name like Ron Weasley as there is in his defective wand? Would Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants have been different had cantankerous Carmen been named Maria?

Seriously. Where do these fabulous masterminds of fantastical novels come up with names like Frodo Baggins or Maximum Ride?! Or even Arthur Fonzarelli? Or (swoon) Jay Gatsby?!

Some authors will actually discuss the answer to this question on their websites. Other website creators offer insight and dole out suggestions as to how you might emulate the greats.

How can you pull off the memorable appellation? Or that name that completely defines who your character is? I mean, not every character's name has to mean something, but I want to name my imaginary friends something other than Joe Schmoe or Suzy Q. (which - PS - aren't that bad!)

Perhaps pull a JK Rowling and arrive at a name through an anagram describing the character: I am Lord Voldemort equals Tom Marvolo Riddle (You know... “You know who’s” given name)

Or mutate or combine names of people you admire. George Lucas did this with "Anakin."

Write names backwards. See if they sound cool. You know – like my daughter’s: Eiznekcm.

Yeahhhh – no (Okay - maybe if I wrote sci-fi)

Soooo—there are lots of faboo ways for authors and screenplay writers to create names for characters we come to know and love. (Or hate)

As for me?

Do I...

1) search through baby name books and go to websites like and discover some really cool names and their meanings

2) use the names of my children

3) fiddle with names already out there (Drew Brees, Serene Winter. I personally think Donovan somebody would make a really cool villain)

4) Or do I close my eyes, flip to a page in my grade book, circle my finger in the air, and choose that one

For some of my characters—yeah—I do a little of all of the above. I mean, I just have to use Aidan somewhere. And I’ve taught for nineteen years—my students have some pretty cool names. And a few have made it into my stories (hehe – President Starzynski) Others haven’t, but will (I'm bound and determined to put a Tova or a Rico in my stories!).

But for the most part, I can sum up my name-choosing experience in two powerful words:

Divine Intervention

Yes – I know you’re laughing, but really. I seriously believe God is behind the names of quite a few of my major characters.

Case in point…

For my first story, I desired my leading lady to have a name that just sounded like a Clark Kent or a Diana Prince. Maybe even a Peter Parker. That memorable alias to their respective Superman or Wonder Woman. Bu-ut I also needed the name to coalesce with a mathematician (uh, nerd much?). A Calculus founder at that. And considering my protag is a female—that research lent to many a fist-pounding-the-couch morning.

Eventually, I created Jameson Bernoulli Peters aka Jamie Peters. And she stuck.

But holy far-reaching implications, Batman.

Little did I know that her name would impact a story thread so powerfully. For me, it was like God steered me to the Bernoulli section and had me choose Jakob (James) and not Daniel (she could’ve been a Dani!) How his name and things he said and did would tie into a personality I’d already created for her. I didn’t know ANY of that when I chose her name. Maybe I just steered the story based on her name, but I choose to think God knew all that was to unfold.

I could babble some more about her neighbors Alexa Caldwell and Marcus Huff (double *swoon*) and the things that popped into my head AFTER I’d already named them, but I’ll just tell you I voiced many a PTL (Praise the Lord) after I finished that novel and still do as I continue to write its sequel.

Exhibit B

My second story is a YA paranormal on one of the seven deadly sins, so I was going for a little Biblical thing with some of my supporting characters' names. I chose Moses for my protag’s best friend and when Josh popped into my head for her annoying lab partner, I went with the eat-at-my-gut instinct.

And then half-way through the writing of that story, I had a 2 AM epiphany.

Moses led God’s people to the Promised Land. Joshua saw them through.

That’s about all the spoiler you get, but zoinks! It explained soooo much of what I’d already written. Notice I said “already written”. Yep—convinced. God had a hand in that for sure.

And finally—the story I’m working on now…

My protag’s a quarterback and one of the plot lines involves his friendship with his left tackle and how they always have each other’s back (think a little Blindside with a side of The Last Song). Okay. It’s also got the whole Biblical element with another of the seven deadly sins. Uh-huh. It just seemed all too natural for me to choose Jonathan and David (not familiar—engage in a little bedside reading of I Samuel).

But then into the room walks Nate (helloooo—where did you come from?), a football bud from Wisconsin, and the dynamics of my story changed when God zapped the whole Nathan the prophet story into my head.


More like Thank you, Jesus.

So there you have it - I create characters with a little help from the Big Guy.

As for you, my fab readers, tell me YOUR favorite character name? Could be one you created. Could be from a fav book or movie.

Go ahead... click the comment button. I'm all ears.


  1. I do the same thing with the names. They come from all over.

    When I was a kid, I used to put the name "Bwonton" in about every third book I wrote...not sure that will be making an appearance in my stuff now, but I remember it! :)

  2. Ugh. The dreaded naming of my characters. It's almost the hardest part of writing the book, besides coming up with a title. I usually look online and try find some cool ones. I've never been hit with any names revelations or God inspired epiphanies, I just try to go with what sounds best, and even if it doesn't at first, it starts to as the story is built. I just might try the backwards thing, though...great idea.

  3. I was just catching up on your blog and came across this entry. You know you have to use a Tempie somewhere because....hello, how many other Tempies have you met....exactly probably none. :) She could be an evil villian. Good luck with your novel writing. Just from reading your blog I am sure the finished product will be an amazing book. :)


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