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Entries in character naming (2)


5 Tips For Not Screwing Up Your Character's Name by Suzanne Johnson

It's genre Monday and today Suzanne Johnson is going to cover a topic I seem to always have trouble with--naming characters in a way that isn't confusing, redundant, or just plain wrong.

For the record, these tips also apply to naming your children. :)

Take it away Suzanne...

Hello, my name is anonymous

Photo by quinn.anya

 5 Tips for Naming Your Character (aka I Screw Up So You Don’t Have To)

I’m in the throes of writing the third book in my upcoming urban fantasy series, and have spent the last hour looking at a key scene involving my heroine and a regent (think: big boss) vampire who might or might not be a murderous necromancer. So far, the vampire’s name is VAMPIRE. Catchy, eh?

Names are no different for paranormals than for romance—or any other kind of fiction. They have power. They resonate (we hope in a good or bad way, depending on the character) with readers. Sometimes we struggle to find them, and sometimes they come to us unbidden. They are important, in other words. And if we are writing series....we’re going to be stuck with them for what we hope is a very long time.

So here are a few lessons about character names I’ve learned the hard way. Think of it as “Suzanne screws you don’t have to.”

The cardinal rule: LOVE the name because you never know how long you might be stuck with it.
I’m like most writers, I suspect, in using a hodgepodge of methods to come up with names. My heroine—technically the only character in my series who cannot be killed—is Drusilla Jane Jaco. What a horrific name for a young, cute blonde wizard, in retrospect. When I started the first book in the series in 2008, I thought naming her after my great-great grandmother would be fun. A little in-joke between me and, well, me. Three books later, I’m tired of finding new ways to explain how she goes by DJ and was named after great-aunt Dru and hates her name blah blah blah, because that has to be done in Every. Single. Book.

Just because Charlaine Harris got away with it doesn’t mean you should try.
Just as you don’t want names that are uber-pretentious (Lord Ar’guth’nirz) or unpronounceable (Cthulhu), you also don’t want names so plain they put your readers to sleep. In one of my manuscripts, Beth Harris was Beth Harris for 93,000 words...until I realized she was bland and vapid, and her name proved it (my apologies to any of you named Beth Harris). The exception to this rule is if your own name is Charlaine Harris. In her ridiculously popular Sookie series (technically, the Southern Vampire series, from which HBO made “True Blood”), Harris planted tongue firmly in cheek and gave the well-endowed Sookie the surname of Stackhouse. Her vampires were Bill and Eric (again tongue in cheek...Eric, who was a Viking when he was turned vampire, uses the last name Northman). But still, I wonder, now that the series has reached book number twelve or something like that, if Ms. Harris ever wishes Bill were named...Jackson, or something un-Bill-like.

Want a really cool name for your character? Use surnames. There are several good online databases of surnames, even broken down by country. One of my own favorite characters is named Mirren. And yes, he was named after Helen Mirren (but don’t tell him since he’s a big macho alpha male and would feel emasculated. I’ve managed to keep that secret from him so far).

Use a name that’s pronounced like it’s spelled.

Just for your own peace of mind. I love my merman twins Rene and Robert Delachaise and their daddy Toussaint, but I know people are going to pronounce their names wrong unless they’re from South Louisiana. It really doesn’t matter except that I like their names with the correct pronunciation: “Renny” and “Row-bear” and “Too-sont” “Della-shay.” So if I’m the only one who enjoys the way a name sounds tripping off the tongue, isn’t that kind of like a tree falling in the woods with no one to hear?
Check your history.

This is a lesson most applicable to writers of historicals or paranormals. Poor, dull Beth Harris’ love interest in my paranormal romance was a 400-year-old Irish vampire named Galen, born in 1570 in the area near Kinsale and turned vampire when he was in his early 30s. I loved Galen Murphy. He was Galen for months and months...until a savvy beta reader, damn her, did a little research and pointed out gleefully that the name Galen was not in use in Ireland in 1600—in fact, it didn’t make it there until the 1800s. So Galen bit the dust, replaced by Aodhan, a fine bit of Gaelic that today is Aidan. But he’ll always be Galen to me.

Variety is good.

Look at your cast of characters as a whole and make sure there aren’t similar names. Not starting with the same letter, certainly, but also not all hard consonant sounds or soft vowel sounds. Did I follow this advice? Of course not. It’s why, three books into my series, I still have major characters named Jean and Jake. Never mind that Jean is an undead French pirate and Jake is a honey-tongued devil from Picayune, Mississippi, who owns a Bourbon Street bar. Jean and Jake; Jake and Jean—and throw in DJ, just so we’ll have another J going. And remember Aidan, who replaced Galen? His brother’s name is Owen. Aidan and Owen. Owen and Aidan. Vowels. So confusing. Don’t do it.
So, there you have it. Now, I’m still looking at my new vampire, who has to compete on the playing field with DJ, Jake, Jean, and Alex (my only character with the good sense to take a unique, likeable, pronounceable name). Perhaps Adam? No....

In honor of names, my recommended read this month is Dead Witch Walking (The Hollows, Book 1)
, a funny, sexy urban fantasy by Kim Harrison and the first in her long-running Hollows series. In it, you’ll find Rachel, Ivy, Trent, Jenks, Kisten, and Al. (AL, you might ask? Well, yeah, he’s a demon and it’s short for Algaliarept.)


What’s been your most problematic character name?


Suzanne Johnson is an author of urban fantasy “with romantic elements.” Her first book, Royal Street, a magic-based fantasy set in New Orleans at the time of Hurricane Katrina, will be released by Tor Books on April 10, 2012. Two more in the series will be released in Fall 2012 and Spring 2013. Find Suzanne online at her Preternatura blog, or read about her books at her website.

*Look for more from Suzanne here every 3rd Monday of the month!




“...a sexy, sizzling tale that is sure to have readers begging for more!" –Jo Davis, author of I SPY A DARK OBSESSION



CRASH INTO YOU is now available for pre-order!

Read an excerpt here.

All content copyright of the author. Please ask permission before re-printing or re-posting. Fair use quotations and links do no require prior consent of the author. ©Roni Loren 2009-2011 |Copyright Statement|



Naming Your Characters: What up, Cornelius?


No Name

Photo by Larry Page (click pic for link(


When I was pregnant, deciding on a name for my son was a highly researched project. I studied name books and the social security lists, said the names out loud, tried to think like a third grader to make sure the name couldn't be turned into something for merciless teasing. I drove my husband crazy.


Now, I don't know if you need to put quite as much time in as I did for my son into your characters' names, but you also should not take it lightly. Names define us and conjure up an instant image.


The name Candy is going to produce a much different image than Francis. A Caleb is very different from a Murray. When people hear my first name, they probably aren't going to picture some elegant debutante, they're going to picture a spunky tomboy (which, in my case, worked because I indeed was a tomboy.) You want your character's moniker to ring true with your reader and produce the desired image.


Some things to consider...


1. Make the name true to the person's age


--You're not going to have a sixty-year old Jayden


--Also, don't show your own age if you're writing YA by naming teen characters Cathy and Deborah and Barbara.


--Go to the Social Security website which will give you the top baby names for each birth year. If your character is 16, go back to that year she would have been born to see what names were popular.



2. Check if the name rolls off your tongue because the reader will be saying it in their head.


--Don't use names that are impossible to pronounce (yes, I'm talking to you you fantasy/sci-fi writers!)


--It's also advised not to use first names that end with S because it causes hissing when reading the possessive form. I’ve broken this one.



3. Avoid naming multiple characters with names that start with the same letter or sound similar because the reader could get confused.


--Billy and Bobby, Jack and Zach


4. Let the name fit the gender.


--Names with hard consonant sounds create a more masculine feel (Jake, Tate, Todd, Kirk) whereas softer sounds are more feminine (Lacey, Alanna, Jennifer).


--One syllable names scream alpha male.



5. Be careful of alliteration


--It can make the name sound silly and contrived. Jenny Johns, Bobby Buckwell


--However, I think this can also work well My hero in Wanderlust is Lex Logan, which I think works for a sexy rockstar.


--And Charlaine Harris has definitely made Sookie Stackhouse work



6. Make it fit the region of the character.


--Where are they from? How would that affect their name?


7. Avoid names that conjure up images of other well-known characters (especially in your genre).


--Don't think you're going to get away with naming a character a Bella for a while.


--This isn't just for books, TV shows count too.


8. Beware the extremely odd name.


--These can annoy people. I personally don't mind a unique name as long as it's not too distracting.


9. Don't fall into stereotypes, but also have the name fit the person's personality and occupation. (Or on the flip side, you can play with it and give a really tough character a dainty name she hates.)


--True Blood is a good example: the name Sookie Stackhouse is fun and perky like the character, Bill Compton is the boy-next door vamp so has an accessible, softer sounding name, Eric Northman is the bad boy and his name sounds more mysterious and tough (to me at least)


10. Don't be afraid to change your character's names if you get halfway through the book and it's not working. That Find/Replace feature in Word is your friend.


--However, try to get it right the first time because even if you tell yourself it's a placeholder name until you come up with the real one, you'll inevitably start thinking of the character as that name and it will be hard to change.


So what are your MC's names? How'd you come up with them? Have you ever read a book that the name was too odd or it didn't fit the character to the point of distraction? 

**Today's Theme Song**
"Say My Name"-- Destiny's Child
(player in sidebar, take a listen)