Uncategorized, Writing Tips

The Name Game

iStock_000008664639XSmallby Patience Bloom

I’m always curious about how writers come up with names for their characters. Names are important, especially if you have to live with the hero and heroine for 250 pages. You love these people and the name is part of the identity. My parents decided I had to be “Patience” since I was born a month late. Pretty funny, huh? But unless a name has special significance in the story, I like to see super normal names in romance, even common names like: David, Susan, Mary, Juan, Jason, Mike, George, Derek, Maria, John, Jessica, Jennifer, Kate.

In romance, there are no rules. But here are some things to consider:

Try to avoid unisex names: Lee, Reagan (?), Jordan, Morgan, Bobby/i, Joey. This is why: When I read about Bobby and Jake stealing their first kiss in the pantry–well, I giggle. Even though I know that Bobby is a girl, “Boy” keeps flashing in my mind.

Think beyond names we’ve seen a million times: Rafe, Jake, Tyler, Ryan, Chase. If I had a penny for how many heroes have these names… I mean, they’re okay but overused.

Rarer names are great, as long as they’re not too rare: like Ri8ck. Oh wait, that’s kind of cool. Never mind!

Overly flowery names like Patience Bloom rate high on the cringe-o-meter, though I may be alone in this. Maybe it just hits too close to home. Maybe the name seems too stylish or obvious: Jasmine (Jazz)–she probably looks and smells like a flower; Periwinkle (Peri), her eyes like “crushed violets”*; Cinnamon, who coincidentally drinks everyone’s favorite herbal tea; Rance (rancid from working 16 hours at the ranch); Trig (short for Trigonometry or Trigger because his parents love math and/or guns); Dakota–I know I’m probably the only one who doesn’t favor naming someone after a state, but it just makes me think of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith’s daughter every time. Ron Howard and his wife gave their children middle names from the states where they were conceived. Kind of ewwww, but I forgive Richie Cunningham anything. Kind of a pointless tangent…

The general rule is that if I notice the name too much, I’m not noticing your wonderful story. But then, you have to choose a name that feels right to you–my preferences, begone. Every editor has different likes and dislikes.

If you have trouble naming your character, just think of who your hero/heroine is–what name pops into your head Daniel Craig? You can always change it later.

*A description from Orlando Bloom by Virginia Woolf

7 thoughts on “The Name Game”

  1. I agree about using common names in a story though the names do have to fit the character. I’m not one for using trendy names unless they have significant meaning. As a teacher I see them far too often. They come in and go out of style too fast.
    I have several stories floating in my head (and on my Pinterest board) and some of the characters have names, others are simply listed as “hero” or “heroine” for now. Some of the characters have had their name changed many times while other names are so perfect I know that is exactly who they should be.
    I’ve even discovered names while teaching (reading something to the students) and I think, ‘that would be the perfect name for my hero in blah blah blah story’. So I immediately grab a sticky note, write it down and shove it in my pocket until I can attach it to the Pinterest board or one of my writer’s notebooks.

    1. Kari and Evangeline (both of your names are fabulous, by the way!),

      Your methods for finding names are great ones. I love discovering how writers come about their characters/names. I can see how Pinterest would be an amazing tool for writers. And now I’m editing a book with a hero named Rafe–but the story is so much fun that the name doesn’t bother me. 🙂


      1. Yes, Pinterest really helps me to visualize my story. I have everything from pics of the main characters to the places they are staying or the cars they are driving. I can look for pics of the dress I want her to wear to a special event and that helps me to describe it better.

        And when I get tired of one story (only because I have been working on it for 4 months) then I can go play on another story board for a while and come back renewed and refreshed to my main manuscript. Plus I have more research already done for another story. Voila! Two birds and one stone.

  2. I usually pull names from a website that lists the genealogy of the British aristocracy. Even though there are lots of Georges, Edwards, Victorias, and Lucys (in my time period [Edwardian] at least), there are a lot of unique names–and I always keep in mind that many aristocrats had funny nicknames derived from their titles or other attributes, so I don’t have to choose the hackneyed “sexy” names (Rafe, Lucian, et al) because I don’t have to call a hero named George Augustus Charteris “George”!!

  3. My characters usually name themselves, frankly. They just show up on the page with those names. (Secondary characters can be a bit tougher.) And you know, for a common name, it suddenly occurred to me that there are hardly any characters named Deborah….

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