Tuesday, June 8, 2010

How do you choose character names?

Instead of doing my usual Tuesday thing, which is to address a question from one of you guys, today I'm asking the question. How do you choose character names?

For me, character names are just kind of a feel, and I use all kinds of methods. Even within the same books.

Like in Me, Just Different.

Skylar is a name I've loved for so long that I'm not even sure where I first heard it. Her full name is Skylar Lynn Hoyt because when I first came up with it (6th grade?) my initials were also SLH, and Skylar was my "me" character in stories. So it's a little funny to me that she ended up being my polar opposite in my debut series.

I wasn't having much luck coming up with a name for Skylar's guy. I finally found Connor's name while driving on I-70. I got stuck behind a semi that said something like Connor Trucking. As soon as I saw it, I was like, "That's it! That's the name!" (Though now that I'm about to have a son named Connor, I need to come up with a better story than that.)

Jodi was my best friend in middle school, and we actually found ourselves in a similar predicament as Skylar and book-Jodi. Especially when it became clear to me that the Jodi character was my villain, I planned to find Jodi a new name. But real-life-Jodi was totally excited about having her name in the book and asked me to keep it.

Eli is just a name I've always loved. I actually had a Jack Russell Terrier named Eli. Who's also has a "I'll do whatever I want, and just try to stop me," kind of personality, so it works out well. Oddly, I once got teased for this name. Back in 2007 at a conference, an acquisitions editor was like, "Where did you get the name Eli from? It sounds Amish or something." In 2009, a month before Me, Just Different released, Sarah Dessen released Along for the Ride. Main guy's name? Eli. Take that Acquisitions Editor!

These days, when I start a new book, I spend a lot of time on Babynames.com. I'm apparently not the only writer who does this, because they now have an article on their site with tips for writers.

So. How do you name your characters?


  1. Babynames.com is definitely cool. For historicals I also use the Social Security Adminitrations' name-popularity database, census records, or, for really historical ones, search lists for different cultural groups (like "names from the Bible" or "Ancient Greek names").

    I also keep a running list of names I see and like. Movie credits provide tons of them, at least now that I don't work in data-input, where I could write down all the cool names that I was entering into the computers . . .

  2. A long time ago my mom bought me a book called "The Very Best Book of Baby Names" from a garage sale. Whoever had it before me went around starring all the names they liked, and so far I've used almost every single one!
    Last names are the toughies for me..

  3. That's cool, Mary! I go on those baby name sites sometimes, but a book sounds cool...I guess I'll have to go garage saleing :D

  4. Oh, and I do that movie-credits thing too, Roseanna. Only my family thinks I'm kinda strange --

    "Can we turn the TV off now?"
    "No, I'm looking for names."


  5. I usually brainstorm every name in my head and write it down on a piece of lined paper. If I run out of ideas, I look at different magazines that are buried deep into my closet. =P

  6. Stephanie,

    I haven't read your books yet, but came over here from Roseanna's site and I'm so excited to see a site for teen writers. I wish there were all these online resources when I was in junior high/high school.

    I, use babynamer.com for my character names. For my main characters I like to have a name immediately and seldom change my choices.

  7. What great ideas everybody has! I hadn't thought of movie credits. And, Mary, I love that you've almost used all the names the previous owner liked for their baby :)

    Graduation ceremonies are a good resource for last names. Keep your programs from that kind of stuff. It's how I keep myself from dying of boredom while I'm sitting there. Movie credits and magazines would be too.

  8. Definitelt spent LOTS of times exploring baby name sites, to get the names for my book... Jenna, Allie, and Dillon... yeah fit's my characters just perfect! Now if I can only find time to write in between working 3 jobs... Any ideas on how to "make" time for writing with such a CRAZY schedule? I'd love to hear what you have to say Stephanie!!

  9. That's a GREAT question, Holly. Let me give it some thought.

  10. Actually, I have a harder time coming up with names for my secondary characters. The biggest problem I have with MC names is spelling. Like on this story I'm writing at the moment, the MCs name is Allexahndrah (pronounced Alexandra, but with a way better spelling :)). Also, another MCs name come from a nickname my sisters gave me.

  11. I usually start thinking about the character, planning what he or she looks like, and what his or her personality is. Usually, by that time, I know what the first letter of the name should be. (When I wrote down my first scene, I had a very well-developed character already---but I was only able to refer to him as "D".) So, after choosing the first letter, I would look up that letter on a baby names website and flip through the names until I found one I liked.