Inspiration for Character Names

Jay Gatsby.
Katniss Everdeen.
Victor Frankenstein.
Huckleberry Finn.
Ebenezer Scrooge.
Harry Potter.

Each of these names are iconic and draw up the story they’re associated with. You don’t even have to mention Charles Dickens to understand the reference, “You’re being a Scrooge!” Nor do you even need to ask what time of year it is when they utter his signature phrase, “Humbug!”

A character’s name helps give them depth. If you have a cardboard name like John Smith, no matter how hard you try, on some level your character will always be cardboard themselves. You need to create an image with their name. Although I read character descriptions within books, I usually form an image of the character through their actions and their name (since I’m reading it over and over again as opposed to TV where I’m seeing the character without necessarily knowing their name).

But where do you come up with memorable and succinct names like Jane Eyre or Atticus Finch?

Like ideas for stories, I draw from my own life and the people I meet or come into contact with. That doesn’t mean name your characters off of your friends or family. That’s a dangerous road. No matter how different your character and the friend they’re named after are, your friend will probably compare themselves to your character. Or worse, you will start writing your character to match the behaviors of your friend.

I’ve used Random Name Generators before, but some of the names they spew out are either too bland or too weird. It’s hard to find a happy medium. I know of some authors using their phone books to search for names. I renamed the brothers’ last name in my Under the Moon series from Lewis (boring!) to Harper (not too strange, but still unique). The name change came while I was deep in edits of The Blood Moon and I was transitioning it from a teenager’s manuscript to a completed novel. The name change had a more significant impact than I would’ve thought.

So where did I find Harper? Funny thing was, I was at my second job at the pet store and someone had just given a donation and filled out a little paw print with their name on it (maybe it was the name of their pet?) and the name stuck. I thought about how well the names Josh Harper and Chris Harper sounded.

When I first started writing, character names would often hold me up when the story was brewing over. Now, I collect names. Whenever I hear a name I like, I write it down. Whether it’s a first name or a last name, if I like the ring, I add it to my list. Then, when I’m developing a story, I draw from the list. Usually I can at least get a first or a last name from the list and come up with the other later. That has helped me tremendously.

What do you do to find inspiration for character names?


 

The Full Moon

The Full Moon is available for preorder and will be released February 6, 2016.

Kathy and her sister, Samantha, have always been a team. Throughout their time as witches, they’ve taken out more than their share of bad guys. But after Kathy meets Will, who she learns is a demonic Dark Knight, her loyalties begin to change.

Meanwhile, Samantha doesn’t trust Will or his intentions. Still, Kathy can’t help but feel tempted by the dark side as she falls deeper in love with Will. Crossing over would give Kathy the freedom to do whatever she wanted with her magic. No rules. No limitations. It would also mean breaking the bond she has always shared with her sister, who has made it clear that she wants nothing to do with the dark side.

When Will proposes they take over the underworld, Kathy loves the idea of having power. But it also leaves her with a choice that will change her life: abandon her family and the life she has always known, or give up the love of her life forever.

Leave a Reply