How do you select the names of your characters?
I recently gave members of my Facebook reading group a chance to help me select a name for the main male protagonist of a Muslim vampire romance I am drafting.
Yeah, you heard right. Just wait for it. Anyway, I had initially selected the name “Rufus” for him. I had my reasons, but readers weren’t even trying to hear any of them. I got all kinds of negative feedback. Some asked how in the world I even thought up such an old-time name.
The ways I select names for characters in my stories vary. Some characters are easy to name while others are time-consuming and may not happen until I am almost finished writing the story.
The Characters Name Themselves
I often state that my characters run around in my mind playing out (and often changing) their stories’ plots before and while I write. Some of them tell me their names immediately. Simon Young, the main character in My Way to You told me his name while I was outlining the novel’s plot. Adam Kane in the upcoming Building on Broken Dreams did the same.
As a matter of fact, most of the Brothers in Law told me their names right away. Well, not Quinn. He’s always elusive with his stuff, but the rest of them aligned their names with their profiles, which is great. The name can be an integral part of a character, driving a lot of its personality.
It can be very frustrating when a character is difficult about their name. In those instances, there is a need for a placeholder, which may or may not change. Since it may interfere with a writer really getting to know a character, the sooner one is selected, the better.
Umm, heck yeah, I use Google. When I want to give a name fitting a character’s profile, I go on a search. I did that with Raad Khouri. His first name derives from the Arabic word “lightning,” which is very appropriate given how quickly he wreaks havoc on people’s lives. They often don’t realize what is hitting them until it is too late.
There are times that require some research to name a character, especially if the “personality” is layered, making it necessary for the name to reflect the complexity. Not every character requires so much heavy lifting.
I find it fairly simple to name tertiary characters, allowing me to focus on naming a story’s main and secondary ones. If the name is going to appear only a few times, there is no need to go through a tremendous exercise. However, for characters with a significant amount of page space, names and nicknames are important. When it is difficult to nail one down, it can be frustrating.
Until One Sticks
I often throw around names in my head for a picky character. Toni Kent, Regina’s sister-in-law and best friend in My Way to You had a bunch of names until Toni landed and she was satisfied. While I wrote most of book one in the series, I had names for main characters Simon, Regina and Marcus. Heck, even Simon’s mother Alice was named, but not Toni. She spat back suggestions as soon as they materialized in my mind: Vivian, Allison, Keisha, etc. She was not going for any of them.
I wrote two-thirds of the story with the placeholder name “Vivan,” hearing her grumble. One night, the name Toni popped into my head, and she was like, “Yes. Finally!” The name rolled off my tongue whenever I spoke about her, and I was able to further solidify her characterization.
Call Me Rufus
Rufus is one of those characters who named himself. After getting less than stellar responses from some readers about his name, I decided to tell him no and go on a search for a new name—hence the poll.
Yeah, he was stomping around in my brain all mad. “I am Rufus. Why don’t you get that?” The name works so well with who the character is (his background, how he got the name for example) that moving away from it was hard, but I wanted to satisfy readers.
Then this happened. A reader added the name “Rufus” to the poll, solidifying it further for me. He is Rufus. He will be sexy, and readers will love him.
That’s a lot of drama, right? It’s all part of being a fiction writer. You build worlds and characters, so naming them may be an adventure.