When starting a new book, there are only about a million big and little decisions an author must make. Everything from the theme of the book, the basic premise, the plot and how to structure it, how many sex scenes to include, how many people will be in the sex scenes… Okay, not all authors put much thought into those last two, but for romance authors who have trouble sticking to a single sub-genre (that would be me), the struggle is real. One of the hardest decisions, believe it or not, is often one that sounds easy—character names.
Sometimes, when I meet a character for the first time, they introduce themselves. This is an amazing feeling because a character who knows their own name generally brings other knowledge with them. They know what they look like, how they dress, their mannerisms, and exactly what they want. It’s almost like I don’t need to make any decisions about their character at all. Oh, the relief!
Other times, I go through so many names in the course of the book the character starts to roll their eyes at me every time I hang a new name around their neck (and do a Find and Replace on the entire manuscript). It’s even worse for side characters. These poor souls can go through three drafts with FriendName stamped on their proverbial forehead. Awkward!
I’ve used some bizarre and delightful methods when naming my characters. A few of these are listed below:
Letting the character introduce themselves: Jeremy from Everything We Need and All the Broken Pieces
Yes, this is the character I was talking about in that second paragraph. Jeremy walked into my brain and introduced himself, while wearing suspenders, and eyeliner. I went with it, and he’s still one of my favourite characters of all time.
Naming characters based on their personality: Dante Sinclair from Finding Grey
Dante was born to be a rock star (according to his father at least) so all I had to do was choose a name that would fit a celebrity. And his surname? Honestly, I just liked the Sin part of Sinclair.
Borrowing names that have a connection to the story: Sean Kelland from Finding Grey
Dante’s character was inspired by Aussie rock legend Michael Hutchence, whose middle name was Kelland. Since Dante already had a surname, I decided to bestow the name upon Sean instead.
Borrowing names that fit a character type: Amber O’Hara from Lost in Amber
Amber was a princess on the outside. But dig a little deeper and she was a fighter through and through. Just like Scarlet O’Hara from Gone with the Wind.
Throwing it to the crowd and seeing what comes up: Harrison Winters from All the Broken Pieces
I told my kids that I needed a surname for one of my characters and I liked the idea of it starting with a W. They started tossing ideas at me. Winters, provided by my son, was the winner. He was thrilled when I ‘really and truly’ used the name he’d suggested in the book.
Letting characters introduce each other: Patrick from The Experiment
This book hasn’t been written yet but… I was entertaining myself one day by watching the first scene play out in my mind (it’s kind of like watching a movie, only you can do it with your eyes closed). In the ‘movie’ my two fine heroes were sitting in a bar and one of them was distracted. The other one, in a last-ditch effort to get his attention, yelled, “Patrick!” I startled in my chair and thought, “So, that’s his name.” Patrick is currently surname-less, so if you have a great surname idea, feel free to send it my way.
We all know how beloved characters can seem like old friends. The sound of their names alone can bring comfort to our hearts and a smile to our faces. Which characters do that for you? I’d love to be introduced!