Thursday, January 10, 2013

What's in a Name? Choosing an Identity for your Characters

When my husband and I found out we were pregnant, we came up with all kinds of girl names. Our last name is Italian for "flower," so I loved the idea of Giada. As a poetry nut, I had always wanted an Emily (Dickinson) and a Walt (Whitman). Two of our neighbors had chosen to name their boys "Finn" and "Sawyer," which I thought was totally adorable. But, despite our half-dozen or so girl names, we couldn't identify one single boy name we agreed on. The hubs felt that the meaning of the name was the most important thing -- so he went after royal-meaning names, like Sultan, Leroy, Barry, and Prince. No. I'm not

I can't tell you when we stumbled upon Max. I can tell you, though, that it was absolutely the ONLY boy name we both liked. And so it was decided -- when we knew it was a boy, he was always Max. That was the only name he ever could have been. Now that he's almost five, Max is SUCH an appropriate choice -- he's the "greatest," as his name implies, but he's also the most of things, the top of things, the first in line, the loudest in the room. He is Max.

In some ways, this is the same way I choose my character names. Nora, for example, is the name of my main character in Taste Test; I chose it after seeing a friend talking about her daughter on Facebook. I loved the name and felt like it had a timelessness that I wanted my MC to personify. And you'll remember Giada, my favorite girl name? She is the "best friend" counterpart to Nora in the book.

Sometimes the names just come, of course. But most of the time, I really do put the kind of care and time into names as I do into plot outlines. I let them roll around in my head. I imagine conversations between two potential characters and see how those names fit. The MS I'm working on now has main characters whose names both start with the same letter; I really like that duality, because other than that, these characters are vastly different.

I'm fascinated as to how others choose their character names, so you tell me: How do you name your characters? Is there a method to your madness?

Kelly Fiore's debut novel, Taste Test, is forthcoming from Bloomsbury USA/Walker BFYR in August 2013. You can find out more about Kelly at or by following her on Twitter at @kellyannfiore.


  1. I love choosing names so much, whether for characters or Sims or kids I don't even have yet. Probably the biggest factor for me is nicknames. I'm a huge fan of nicknames, so I rarely use names that don't have any. I gravitate toward names that have multiple nickname options, and often use those to show different relationships.

    I love when a meaning lines up, but more important for me is the vibe I get from a name - I want the level of formality or free-spiritedness or blue-collarness or whatever it is to line up with the character. That to me is the number-one thing.

  2. I love the sounds of names as well as the meanings. I have two baby name books that are my go to source when it's time to name a character, but I really like your idea of imagining conversations between characters to try out names.

  3. Hi. New to your blog and just signed up as a member. As to names . . .they just seem to come with the character. I guess I've been affected by Dickens. His character names absolutely fit their personalities.

  4. My characters usually come to me fully formed with names attached, but when I need to name one, I use baby name books. I have three. I do look for meaningful names. Since I write historical fiction sometimes, there is also a site on the internet that gives the favorite names during each year.