January 3, 2015

Exactly What's in a Name?

It's January again and I feel I must make a few resolutions - well, maybe one. I'm not sure why. It would seem that the first day of spring is a more apt time to be thinking of renewal and change. But January first is the tradition, so I'll stick to it.  

My resolution is to finish my book by May first and to write at least one blog post a month. Since ideas are scarce, I gave up on weekly. So to begin 2015 -

What’s in a name?

A lot is written about plot development, character development, where ideas come from, etc. But lately I've been pondering character names. Where do they come from? Do most authors sit down and deliberately decide character names? Do they start with a name that they've always loved? Are they paying homage to someone or making puns on purpose?

I hadn't given this much thought before. I just sat down a picked names at random that seemed to work. Then my son, and, when asked, my sister, both thought that my policeman - tall, handsome, Bill Greene - was loosely based on my ex-brother-in-law. This never occurred to me. But when they brought this up I realized that my sister’s ex is very tall, very handsome, and is named Bill. Go figure!

My main characters are Daisy, Rose and Angela. It seems that these names just came to me. But I lately have remembered that my confirmation name is Rose. Not that I had forgotten my confirmation name. I just didn't realize that I named a character after myself.

The only truly nice guy in the Daisy&Rose series is named Tom Willis. He’s handsome, intelligent, and plays by the rules. A good guy all around. It happens that my husband is also named Tom. He’s handsome, intelligent and an all-around good guy. I know that no one will believe this, but I did not choose his name intentionally.

I have a restaurant called the Clover Tavern. The family who owns it is named Clover. This was intentional. My Dad built such a tavern in Fredericksburg, Virginia back in the day and ran it with his mother. However, until I saw it in print, I totally blanked on the fact that Penny Clover Petersen is written in big letters on the front of the book.  And then it just seemed a really odd choice.

At this point I feel that some, probably most, of you are now concerned about my mental health. You needn't worry. I've always been somewhat concerned about my mental health, but, as I am not dangerous, I just ignore it. However, I do find it fascinating that my sub-conscious mind is naming my characters without my knowledge or consent. The question now is do I continue to let the recesses of my mind do the work or do I take charge and go to the obits and the phone book?

I’d love to hear from other authors about how they name their characters.


  1. Sounds like your subconscious is picking familiar names for you. I often use a name generator online or look up historic names.

  2. No, I don't think you're losing your mind. At least I hope not because a similar thing happened to me. Although I'm normally very careful when I choose my characters' names, this one slipped by me. My main character is named Ann. I didn't realize when I wrote my first Malone mystery that I'd picked that name because it was a favorite aunt's name. All I knew was that she HAD TO be named Ann. One day out of the blue, it hit me. So, you see, I get it. :)

  3. Interesting aspect that your subconscious is at work when choosing names. Don't we all associate character traits and behavior with names? A Lolita requires a different make-up than a Daisy. (Maybe a Lolita wouldn't get a confirmation name? I don't know.) I'm writing mostly autobiographical.Then you don't have much of a choice of names one would think, unless you have to change them for anonymity. So my Mike became a Chuck ( as I had to chuck him out soon); Leo evolved from a Jerry when I learned about his brazen behavior; etc.
    "Next Time Lucky" has a motley menagerie of them.

  4. Anonymous2/26/2015

    I once heard and interview where a claim was made that Ray Bradbury had a view of a pencil factory when he wrote Fahrenheit 451. Supposedly he unconsciously used Faber as a name due to this. I have my doubts but he does mention the pencil link in the notes of some editions.