You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers! On Fridays, the OneFours answer questions about their books, writing processes, life, favorite flavors of ice cream, and more. This week’s question:
How do you name your characters?
Usually they just tell me their names from their first sentence. Not sure how that happens. Gordie was named after Red Wing great Gordie Howe. The rest of the characters in TGW came into my head already named.
-Helene Dunbar, THESE GENTLE WOUNDS
Sometimes I’ll look up the meanings of names and find one that fits the who of who they are. In the case of Amber, I chose one of the most popular names at my school.
-Jaye Robin Brown, NO PLACE TO FALL
If I have an agenda for a name (must be a certain ethnicity, must have a certain meaning, must sound androgynous, must have been popular during a certain time period), then I look at 20000-names.com, baby name sites and such. If it’s for a tertiary or walk-on character, I just come up with something that sounds decent and doesn’t conflict with other character names (e.g., doesn’t start with the same letter as multiple more important characters). If it’s a main character, I try to think of something interesting that either relates to their backstory or to story theme or character arc.
~ Mary Elizabeth Summer, TRUST ME, I’M LYING
My main characters all have their names before I know their stories. The characters jump into my mind fully formed, including names. For the supporting cast, though, I have a ton of fun naming characters after people I know in real life. Most of my nieces and nephews have made it onto the pages of my books, as well as friends from high school and critique partners. Sometimes, I choose names because one of my minor characters reminds me of someone I know in real life, and sometimes it’s because they’re so completely opposite that it makes me giggle every time I see that name paired with that character.
~ Veronica Bartles, TWELVE STEPS
If I’m writing humor, I pick names that sound funny or work as jokes. For example, I named a hairless cat “Fluffy” and a monkey warrior “Mongee-Poo.” I also like sneaking friends’, family, and even favorite teachers’ names into stories as cameos.
~Louise Galveston, BY THE GRACE OF TODD
All of my characters’ names have meaning. Sometimes it just means I saw a street name I liked.
- Emily Lloyd-Jones, ILLUSIVE
I have a brand new answer for this question! YAY! I ask my amazing street team–the bloggers and teens who have done early reads of Compulsion and liked it enough to want to be involved. (Which is amazing and wonderful by itself!!!) Seriously, main characters names usually “feel” right to me, and then I will research the name and it will settle in. On occasion though, a name won’t work for a variety of reasons, and then I will usually end up renaming that character multiple times. That just happened with the villain in Persuasion, the sequel to Compulsion. I had accidentally named him after one of my husband’s many cousins. And because the name was absolutely perfect, I couldn’t find a new one. Fast forward the day before my first revision is due to my editor, and I’m still struggling. I’m already scouring my manuscript to find minor characters to name after street team members who have already been especially fabulous, and it hit me that I should ask them. So I posted the question, and two minutes later, I had the PERFECT name! Even better than the original perfect name. I highly recommend this method, needless to say! :)
~ Martina Boone, COMPULSION
My characters are partially named to reflect their ethnicity and partially named for their meaning. Gilded and Silvern are both set at a real life international school in Seoul, Korea called Seoul Foreign School. International schools are a very unique in that the students attending those schools are from all over the world, not necessarily from the host country. 50% of the population of Seoul Foreign is American, but the other 50% are from all over the world. Therefore I wanted my cast of characters to reflect that diversity. Jae Hwa Lee, my main character, is Korean-American. Many of the Korean-Americans take on American names, but I didn’t think that fit Jae well. So I gave her a Korean name that meant respect and beauty, symbolizing the journey she must take.
~ Christina Farley, GILDED and SILVERN
I have the hardest time naming characters. The character comes to me first, and then I fret and fret and fret until I stumble across a name that fits them. I like unusual names–both for characters and just generally in life–so I usually tend to save names in my head that I see in magazines or come across in the news or on television. Like, “Ooh, I like that name! Maybe it would work for Character X.” And then I try it out and see.
~Skylar Dorset, THE GIRL WHO NEVER WAS
Often the names just pop into my head with the character, fully formed. Sometimes after, in revisions, I’ll realize that name doesn’t work for one reason or another (in one book I had named a really nasty kid with the same name as my nephew…oops!). So then I have to find a new one. A book of baby names belongs on every writer’s shelf, just to keep things interesting. I also try to throw in as many friends and family names as possible, using them for minor characters or random people. It always makes me smile, even if only a few other readers will ever know!
~Dana Alison Levy, THE MISADVENTURES OF THE FAMILY FLETCHER
Because the themes of A Girl Called Fearless include girl’s rights and revolution, several of my characters’ names hint at American or women’s history. The last name of the main character, Avie Reveare comes from Paul Revere, because she will help alert the country to the threat the Paternalist party poses. Sparrow Currie, a science geek is named after the scientist Marie Curie, while Margaret Stanton is named after two women: Margaret Sanger an early supporter of contraceptives and Elizabeth Cady Stanton who fought for women having the right to vote. Hottie Yates Sandell, however, was named after one of my favorite poets, William Butler Yeats.
-Catherine Linka, A GIRL CALLED FEARLESS
Mrs. Frabbleknacker (possibly the best name I have ever come up with) popped into my head one day. I giggled myself silly, wrote it down, and that was the end of that.
~Lauren Magaziner, THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES
The name Wren just popped into my head as I was writing – I liked it because it was short and strong. Grayson came from an old friend I struck up a conversation with at a high school reunion. She’d just had a baby named Grayson, and I thought it was a really cool name, so I filed it away for a future project. As I was writing PoA, and needed to name my male protagonist, the name Grayson kept showing up everywhere (he was originally named Connor but it didn’t fit his character) – the final straw was at a paint your own pottery place when I noticed the signature on one of the wall tiles was Grayson, so I figured the universe was trying to tell me something. The universe is good like that.
~Robin Constantine, THE PROMISE OF AMAZING
I’m a teacher, and I steal names from my students and co-workers all the time. I switch around first names and last names, so no one’s name is completely stolen, but I definitely use my class lists for name ideas. So, former students, if you’re wondering if that character is named after you, the answer is…probably.
~ Jessica Love, PUSH GIRL
When I need a name, I’ll sometimes pull out my copy of 1001 Baby Names and go shopping. I love poring through the lists and trying out different names to see what sounds right. For last names, I keep a phone book nearby. Since DREAM BOY is set in a small town in southwestern Virginia, I tried to make sure the names fit my experience of living here, too. The most unusual names in the book are probably Talon and Paolo. Talon just popped into my head, and ultimately the name ended up defining the character a good bit. Paolo was the name of someone I went to high school with. The real Paolo is not necessarily similar to the character Paolo, but I liked his name and stole it.
~Mary Crockett, DREAM BOY
For THE GIRL FROM THE WELL, my female MC is based on a ghost from a Japanese legend, so I appropriated the name. For everyone else I use a personal name generator, where I keep hitting the refresh button until a name I like pops out. It’s a very scientific process.
~ Rin Chupeco, THE GIRL FROM THE WELL
|Skila Brown has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She grew up in Kentucky and Tennessee, lived for a bit in Guatemala, and now resides with her family in Indiana. Her debut novel, CAMINAR, is available now from Candlewick Press.