Monday, August 26, 2013

Names Are the Worst

Know what sucks? Coming up with names for your characters.

I usually start writing without being absolutely sure of all of the names (particularly those of the main characters) and do a few rounds of find/replace before the end. I'm doing it right now. In honor of all the baby name websites I've been on lately (hi NSA, that's so sweet, but no need to send congratulatory flowers), I thought I'd say how I came up with the names of the characters in Protect Me.

Hope: From the beginning I knew that this name needed to be unambiguously feminine to avoid confusion - nothing wrong with m/m, but I really didn't want to have confused readers being like, "Waaaaaaait a second why are there boobs here." And for some reason every person I asked suggested an androgynous name. Perhaps because of her profession...? I don't know, but it was interesting. Anyway, I liked the idea of giving this hardboiled, stoic character a floofy, cheery name, and having her shrug and own it the way she does everything else.

Rick: This was actually the name of a (much older) coworker from a while back. It's a less commonly heard diminutive of Richard, and when I first met him I was like, "Damn that's dignified! I need to save that for a story!" It felt like a very old-money, good breeding sort of name with a bit of edge, and that's exactly what Rick is.

Javier: I wanted to call this character Carlos, but I have a good friend named Carlos, and there's nothing more awkward than naming a character after a friend. Instead, one night I asked Carlos to give me a random name, and here we are. (I'm not terrifically fond of this name, to be honest, but ah well.)

Trinity: Personally I don't have any black friends named Trinity, but I have three or four friends-of-friends named Trinity. Obviously names are open-access and there are plenty of black women named Jennifer and Britney, but I wanted to go for something with at least a bit of identity.

Boran: My friend spent a summer in Turkey, so I asked him for a Turkish name. I looked this one up and it meant "violent storm", so, sold.

Steve Winters: I'm not entirely sure where his last name came from, but Steve has always felt like a very solid, reliable name to me, so it felt fitting for a guy that Hope would trust.

Iseul: This one I did the cheap and easy way - I just looked up a list of the most popular Korean girl names from roughly around the time that Iseul was born, and picked one that didn't have the same first letter as any of the other names.

Willem Gouws: Because I'd done a fair bit of research on South Africa, I had a good idea of common Afrikaner names. Too good an idea, actually. The first three or four names I picked were all the names of elected officials in South Africa, which I definitely wanted to avoid. I messed around a bit until I found something that didn't immediately pull up a famous person on the first page of Google.

Kgosi Thabo: When I was reading news on a South African site, I saw the name Thabo pop up a fair bit, and eventually went with that.

Phew, that was kind of mentally taxing! How do you guys come up with the names in your novels? Or if you're a reader, what names do you especially like or dislike (or just see used a lot)?


  1. Names are hard.

    I have many scraps of paper with names scribbled on them for future use. First names, last names, male, female, etc. I have census websites bookmarked, and also trawl through baby name sites.

    Mythology, or modernizations thereof, can be good, depending.

  2. Naming my characters takes at least two hours, sometimes days. Very taxing because I'm stubborn and won't start until I have them. My characters want their names, you know. They won't talk to me without them.

    It depends on the story since I write fantasy. Sometimes I want modern names, but a lot of times I need like old-sounding names or names of a specific origin, like Sanskrit or Russian. I'm on baby names sites a lot. And I'll usually write down a few standbys for misc/background characters. I love androgynous names for women. I have a girl in one story named Riley. I love it. For some reason in my current story I ended up with Korie and Deryk. I didn't like either of those names, but they did and I was tired so there we go. Lol! I'm also prone to making up names and tricking out the spelling. At least it'll look different anyway.

    Dude, I love Kgosi Thabo. That's awesome.