Saturday, April 17, 2021

Naming a Story's Characters

This month's round robin is about how each author chooses the names for their characters.  In real life, names can be odd identifiers as spellings change and odd names occasionally show up. 

For instance, my legal spelling is Rhobin. Where did the 'h' come from? Not even my mother knew. My brother spread the story that a drunk midwife misspelled the name on the birth certificate as my father said to name me for the bird which was just outside the window while he and mom were deciding on a name. Supposedly she visited a bar across the ally. My brother, who was born at the same facility, gave me the nickname Beergarden because of the story. Although I love him dearly, grrrr! Older Brothers!  Why do I use Robin? Because everyone tends to pronounce Rhobin as row-bin rather than rob-in. Okay, enough about me.

So based on real-life names, fiction names can have a wide swath of usage.

From all of my reading, I know character names are important.  In some instances, they can indicate the period or place of the story's setting, or the ethnicity of the character.

My first caveat in naming characters for me is to not use the name of anyone I know—no family members or friends' names unless they are very commonly used names. But, if I did want to use their name, I would certainly ask if it was all right and describe the character to them. Do I think they would be upset or offended if I used their name? Maybe if used without permission. Yet as mentioned some names are so common that with a different surname the character would be just another person with that name, so it would be okay. While I know many people named Tom, I've used it in a story, but he was an honorable character and, of course, had a different surname. Come to think of it Tom might have represented my now deceased uncle.

It's my evil characters that I try to avoid offending anyone I know by not using their name. Usually, that character receives an entirely made-up moniker.

In my Aegis fantasy stories, the character naming is different. I've researched many historical names and now have a thick folder of names by country and ethnicity.  In it, I found Celtic names seemed to fit my characters best. This is odd because my son just did 23andMe and found out we are 80% Celtic.

Many of my characters in my science fiction books are also made up although I'm sure some historical names used today will also be used in the far future. The key in made-up names is to make sure the spelling clearly expresses the pronunciation.

That's why I use my folder. Luckily, for my historical book, Constantine's Legacy,  I already had a list of Frankish names. The problem is they can be hard to pronounce. 

Even with these caveats, I can search for names that just seem to fit my characters.

Skye Taylor 
Anne Stenhouse 
Victoria Chatham 
Beverley Bateman 
Helena Fairfax 
Dr. Bob Rich 
Marci Baun 
Judith Copek 
Connie Vines 
Fiona McGier 


  1. If you think Frankish names are hard to pronounce, what about Welsh - a language that seems to use far more consonants than anyone can wrap their tongue around. But you make a good point about the reader being able to pronounce the name in their head without difficulty.

    Outside of honoring my grandkids' requests to see their names used in my books, I did name one character in my recent mystery after a real adult. It seemed to fit because it was a new series in a new genre but his last name was Cameron and that was the family name in my romance series that my faithful readers might enjoy seeing, especially since I could make him a relative. When the book was published, I took a signed copy to the man who inspired the name and told him he was immortal now. He was pleased with the idea and quite happy to find his alter ego in a book.

    1. What an interesting opportunity! Names come from everywhere, don't they?

  2. This was another great topic, Rhobin, thank you. For this one I'm amazed that we all seem to be pretty much on the same page.

    1. Yes, we are, but always with some differences. Yet I'm glad to know how much effort everyone puts into naming their characters. It makes me feel less delusional.

  3. Really good post on how you pick or makeup names. I found how you made up sci-fi names and make sure the spelling helped with the pronunciation.

  4. Rhobin, I promise I won't ever call you Beer Garden. :)
    I find your name distinctive, and therefore memorable. I once had a friend and colleague, Peter Papadupulous. Much easier to remember than Peter Jones!

  5. Siblings can be PITAs. LOL It's part of the "joy" of having them. They know the exact buttons to push. I have to agree with Bob, I find your name distinctive.

    Generally, I don't use names of family members or friends either. It's hard, though, as my circle expands to avoid using the good names. LOL However, there are a plethora of interesting names to choose from. It's part of what makes creating stories so interesting.

  6. Rhobin, I enjoyed your story concerning your legal name, and your sense of humor about the 'h'. I never understood why my parents harnessed me with a 'nickname'. As a child, adults insisted my name was Constance (which would have simplified my life greatly). Fast-forward to today. Now, I'm correcting people who insist the correct spelling of my name is: Kony.

  7. Rhobin, as Dr Bob commented, your name is individual and distinctive. I don't know of anyone else who spells their name this way.
    Like you I agonise far more over naming the villains in my fiction than the good guys, because I worry about offending people. For one of my villains I just invented a name - it was much easier!
    Thanks so much for organising another thought-provoking round Robin.

  8. My PITA younger brother was amused when I was upset that no one ever wrote a song about a "Fiona" when I was young. The closest I ever got was "My Sharona." Sigh. So he used to "serenade" me--
    Oh, Fiona,
    you're sexy like a hunk of bologna.
    I want to buy you a Toyota Corona.

    He said he couldn't think of any other rhymes. Sigh.

  9. Hi Rhobin, I've loved this post. The answers have been full of interest. My late aunt, like you, should have been Helen after her mother, but my grandfather got it wrong at the Registrar's and she was Ellen. always known as Nellie. sigh!
    I am glad I don't write fantasy. fiding pronounceable names seems nearly impossible. anne