Friday Fun – Organizing Writing

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

Today’s question is: Where do you come up with names for characters in your writing? 

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: I don’t write a lot of fiction but when I do I agonize over my characters’ names (much like I did when it came time to name each of my 6 kids.) I tend to like unusual and “old time” names and I’ve been known to pull out maps to peruse names of roads.

In one particular piece of fiction that I did write, I used the name – Dunloggin as the protagonist’s name (I had read that story to my kids and they still ask me about Dunloggin.)  Another character in that story (it was fairy tale-ish) was Knotweed.

I have yet to use any of  my friends or family member’s names in  my writing (unless of course it is non-fiction memoir writing.) In that instance I think it would be too difficult to divorce the character from the actual person. – Although I do know of a writer who patterned a character in her book after someone who had bullied her son when he was young. The author ended up having a very satisfying demise for that particular character.

Deborah Lee LuskinDeborah Lee Luskin: I read names wherever they appear – graduating seniors, phone books, gravestones – and keep lists, often mixing first and last names. Sometimes, I use historical names, like Ransom Blood, because you just can’t make up anything that good. Other times, I do seek revenge (as in the story Wendy tells above), but in a way that’s not obvious to anyone but me, like changing a Margaret to Maggie or a Smith to Smythe. But as is so often the case with fiction, the characters usually tell me their names, just as they tell me what they’re going to do.

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: Names are one story element that seems to come to me out of the ether. Most of the character names I’ve come up with have simply “occurred” to me as though I knew them all along, but had forgotten them. I like to imagine that I actually did know them – that somewhere in a past life, different dimension, or alternate reality I actually knew these characters … that I’m not making them up as much as I am remembering them from another incarnation. How amazing would it be if storytellers were actually conduits between different times and realities – not fabricating, but channeling? Hmmm … perhaps there’s a story in that idea. 😉

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson: Jamie and I are sharing a similar wavelength. Most times the character names ‘come to me’ when they need to. When I first started writing, I had neutral gender names for female leads – Sam for Samantha, Jo for Josephine, Max for Maxine. There have been times when I’ve written stories and something has felt – off – and after letting the stories sit, on occasion it’s been because of the character name. The right character name is so important in my stories.

7 thoughts on “Friday Fun – Organizing Writing

  1. Difficult question for me, with a multicultural “database” of known, remembered or seen somewhere names, I’m very aware of the immediate character nuances they could automatically project to readers. I mean, the sound of a name, its spelling, its origin all concur to become an element of the character, don’t you think?

  2. I can’t even remember the names of my grandkids, coming up with new names is hard. Most often, I just call everybody “George.” It does make it a little difficult to read my stories, but a lot easier to write.

  3. So much anxiety with this issue! What’s the best name? I’ve used phonebooks, old class annuals–turns out to be a great source–but the gold mine for me has been the national census. I joined for a while and printed out list after list of census forms, looking for family members. I did find family, but also found tons of incredible names.

  4. As my novels are set in the late 1950s-early60s, I need to use names that wouldn’t be out of place then. In my first book, I looked along my rows & rows of books to choose my teenage male protagonist’s name. I picked a first & surname from different authors. The rest of the characters’ names just came as needed.
    With my WIP, I started with Jessica as a first name for my teenage girl protagonist. The surname & her parents & siblings fell in as required. However, two-thirds the way through the book, I knew Jessica had the wrong name. It took me a couple of weeks to work out what her name really was. I discovered it was Victoria, which happens to be the name of a close writer friend, though that’s not why I used it. I also discovered that her younger siblings couldn’t say Victoria when they were little, so to them and to me, she became Tori. And that is just right. 🙂

  5. I write the names of characters based on their talent. Like Lily is like a lily flower smooth and good. I use names that suite them best and invent some too. Some can be like Brad, Serena, Xander.

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