A Rose by Any Other Name

I can’t believe I’m going to admit this, but I’ve always been obsessed with names. When I was eight or nine years old I used to make lists of names from the credits that rolled on my favorite TV shows.  Can you say OCD?  I had a five-subject catalogue of every name I’d ever seen or heard. 

When I was naming my children, it was really important to me that they had strong names that could carry them into adulthood, names they would be proud to say when reaching out to shake someone’s hand for the first time. 

A lot of years have passed since I was in grammar school making my database of names.  However, I’m still preoccupied with the interesting labels we are given at birth and the way our personalities shape around those monikers. Who would you be if you’d been called Sally instead of Susie?  The impact of a name on our lives is true for man-kind and our fictional character  counterparts.

Naming characters has always been one of the most stressful parts of the writing process for me.  I know that once I tag that character with a name, their admirable and not so admirable qualities will develop around it.  No matter how hard I’ve tried, the names I use inevitably influence who my characters become.

So knowing the importance of a name, how do you pick the right one?

1. Steal Them – My cell phone has a special file in it with the super original tag “names”, on it.  When I’m in public, on the internet, talking to friends, etc., and I hear a name I like I whip out my phone and hijack it for my list.  (Still making lists of names!)

2.  Morbid Curiosity – I’ve been spending a lot of times in cemeteries ever since we started researching our family tree.  I have no problem borrowing a name from a headstone.  Some of my best Cajun surnames have come from the graveyard.

3.  Surf – When all else fails, I type in a search string for names on Google and spend hours looking for the one that jumps out at me. 

Sometimes when we are really lucky, the character’s name themselves.  In my up coming novel Jamais Vu, the main female character is named Darby Lambert.  It came to me one night in a dream and I just went with it.  As the story developed, I realized I didn’t particularly care for the name Darby. 

I remember calling a friend of mine and telling her I had to come up with a better name for my heroine.  Little did I know, Darby had other plans.  That day while I was at work, I got a new client named Darby Construction (I’m not kidding).  The following day when I went to pick my daughter up from cheer practice, she introduced me to her new friend, Darby. I had never heard the name before and suddenly everywhere I went Darby was jumping out at me.  I got the picture and let my girl keep her name.

Tell me about the weird ways you name your characters.  How do you get your ideas?  Do you have any stories about characters who chose their own names?

Thanks for stopping by!


Monique O’Connor James

Author of:  “The Keepers”, “The Mulligan Man”, & “Jamais Vu”
Twitter:               mjames13

6 thoughts on “A Rose by Any Other Name

  1. What a great post. 🙂 I’m also obsessed with names, and an editor said I choose good ones. I have spent hours on baby names sites, and I have lists on my computer of names I like, love, or find interesting. I agree with you, too, on graveyards for names, and I also enjoy using family names from way back in my novels or honoring a family member (with a name I love) by using part of their name or a derivative in my writing.

    I so enjoyed reading this!

  2. This is an area I’m particularly weak in as a writer. All my characters would probably be named “Protagonist,” “Antagonist,” Char 1,” “Char 2,” “Plot Device 1,” etc., if not for my lovely wife. Before I write something, I sit down and tell her what happens and who the people are, and then we brainstorm the names involved.

    That said, some day I’m going to write a story in which every character is named Bob. Why? Just ’cause.

    • Thats funny! Just so you know, I’ve written a complete novel and then changed the characters name. Do so was like I’d done it to one of my children, but once I got used to the new name, I was glad I did it!

  3. Great post! I loved the fact you take the names seriously(:
    Usually when I write, the first good name I come with is the one that will stay. It’s kind of instinct. Sometimes it’s a name I didn’t like until then but somehow I find it perfect for the character and then there’s no chance it’ll ever change.

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