For this month's Q & A, I asked the Luckies
Where do you get your inspiration for character names?
You might be surprised at some of the answers.
Emma Pass - ACID (Add to Goodreads): "My characters' names arrive in my head, fully formed, out of nowhere, and they bring the character with them. If I try and think up a name, it never works. So I guess my answer is… I have no idea!"
Rachele Alpine - CANARY (Add to Goodreads): "I have to admit that I cheat a little and draw from people I know. Many of the characters in CANARY are the first or last names of friends and teachers who have influenced me in my life. My newest book (a MG novel about the theater) uses names from people who I've acted with or have some relation to the theater."
Lydia Kang - CONTROL (Add to Goodreads): "I confess, there is a big secret behind why the main characters in CONTROL are named the way they are. If you are good at riddles, you'll figure it out and will find a plot twist before everyone else."
Nicole McInnes - BRIANNA ON THE BRINK (Add to Goodreads): "Basically, I like to go with the sounds of first names, and sometimes I'll look up the meanings as well. BRIANNA ON THE BRINK contains several last names of friends and family members. There's also the last name of a well-known author who was my office-mate during grad school and has used my last name in some of her novels."
April Tucholke - BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA (Add to Goodreads): "Honestly, I often look at a list of Dicken's characters for inspiration (like this: http://www.howstuffworks.com/arts/litera....es-dickens.htm) Who does names better than Dickens? Skimpole, Polly Toodle, Honeythunder, Chuzzlewit, Turveydrop..."
Melissa Landers - ALIENATED (Add to Goodreads): "Cara's name just came to me, no effort required. For Aelyx, (pronounced A-licks), I took a common English name--Alex--and tweaked it to sound a bit...well, alien. I also managed to work my kids' names into the book: Ashley, Troy, and Blake."
Christina Farley - GILDED (Add to Goodreads): "I really wanted my main character for GILDED to be a Korean name even though she is Korean-American so I choose Jae Hwa because it meant respect and beauty. For my other characters, I chose names that would show their diverse ethnic backgrounds and cultures since my characters all go to an international school."
Cat Winters - IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS (Add to Goodreads): "Some of my IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS character names, like Mary Shelley Black, came to me at the same time the character showed up in my head. For others, I consulted the SSA list of top names for the characters' birth years (for an 1890s-born male, for example, I went to http://www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames/decades/names1890s.html.)"
Mindy Raf - THE SYMPTOMS OF MY INSANITY (Add to Goodreads): I love making up names. A lot of my character names just came to me naturally, like my protagonist Izzy Skymen. Others went through rounds of changes before I found one that really worked. It was also brought to my attention in edits I had a weird affinity towards last names ending in "son," and had to do a lot of last minute, last name changing.
Kelsey Sutton - SOME QUIET PLACE (Add to Goodreads): Usually I end up Googling "Cool girl names" or "Cool boy names". And I pick out the ones I like. Then I Google "Cool last names". You get the picture.
Amy Christine Parker - GATED (Add to Goodreads): I google names and pick one that fits based on the character's background and back story. I like to check out name meanings too and sometimes the meaning will make me choose it. Usually it's as inexact as saying a bunch of names to myself out loud while envisioning my character and seeing which ones feel right.
Justina Ireland - VENGEANCE BOUND (Add to Goodreads): I steal them from Greek mythology.
Mindy McGinnis - NOT A DROP TO DRINK (Add to Goodreads): I literally do not name my characters until I arrive at them within the plot. I'm a linear pantster so I refer to them as "Girl Main Character," "Boy Main Character," "Quirky Friend," etc., mentally until I reach the point in the book where they need names. Then I stop, let my hands relax and say, "What's your name?" And they tell me.
Caroline Carlson - MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT (Add to Goodreads): My main characters usually get their names sort of organically--I try to choose the name that "feels right" for each of them--but some of my minor characters' names are references or jokes. I never search for name meanings before I name a character, but some of my characters' names have turned out to describe them surprisingly well!
Susan Laidlaw - AN INFIDEL IN PARADISE (Add to Goodreads): When I first started writing AN INFIDEL IN PARADISE I was teaching. I had a 10-year-old student named Emma who was passionate about writing. She was really talented and I wanted to inspire her, so I named my main character after her. She was much sweeter than my character though.
Amy McCulloch - THE OATHBREAKER'S SHADOW (Add to Goodreads): I have this weird quirk that means that in every book I've started, I've used the same main character names. So if it's a girl she's called Tagwen, and if it's a boy, he's called Sterlyn (yes, they are both unusual names - I discovered them when I was 13!). Doesn't matter what race or age the protags are, or whether it's a fantasy or contemporary novel, the names start out the same. Then, when I feel I know them a bit better, the names change. So even my The Oathbreaker's Shadow protagonist (now called Raim) started off as Sterlyn in the very first draft of the book.
Sara Polsky - THIS IS HOW I FIND HER (Add to Goodreads): My main characters usually arrive with their names -- and weirdly, when I look up the character name later, I often find that it matches the character arc.
Emma Trevayne - CODA (Add to Goodreads): No one in CODA has a traditional name, really. (Okay, one person does, and it's an homage to Johnny Mnemonic, since William Gibson is the godfather of cyberpunk.) Otherwise, all their names are actual words. For the most part, I just picked words I liked or that seemed to fit them, but the main character, Anthem, the girl of his dreams, Haven, and his little brother and sister, Omega and Alpha, were all named after songs.
C. J. Flood - INFINITE SKY (Add to Goodreads): I use place holder names for as long as it takes for the characters name to arrive, which varies. Sometimes, I look up the meaning of names, but mostly I just go with something that has a nice rythm to it. Occasionally, I use a name from one of the big literary chaps. Iris's mum in Infinite Sky is named after Anna Karenina.
Melanie Crowder - PARCHED (Add to Goodreads): A character's name is so important! Honestly, I don't usually get it right the first time. I try a few different names as I'm drafting my way into the story, and before too long, the right name arrives. Except for Musa -- finding his name was just one of those perfect moments!
Lindsay Ribar - THE ART OF WISHING (Add to Goodreads): With my secondary characters, I often borrow names from my friends -- first or last, but never both at the same time. With my main characters, I like their names to be a reflection of where they come from, in every sense of the word. For example, my narrator's name is Margaret (which says more about her parents than about her), but she chooses to go by Margo.
Helen Douglas - AFTER EDEN (Add to Goodreads): My main characters' names often change many times during a first draft. I start with a placeholder name until the right one comes to me.
Secondary characters are usually names borrowed from family and friends - either their first name or their surname but never both. I did name a PE teacher in my book Mr. Ball, after a real PE teacher I know with that name. But everyone said it was unbelievable. As always, truth is stranger than fiction.
Eve Silver - RUSH (Add to Goodreads): When I start a project, I often don't know the characters' names. I type XXX for the heroine (because of the X chromosome) and YYY for the hero (because of the Y chromosome) and at some point in the process, the characters tell me their names and I replace all those Xs and Ys. Secondary characters get designations such as BFF, Obnoxious Pal, Sports Pal, etc. Once they tell me their names, I replace those designations, too.
Jackson, the hero of RUSH was an exception. He told me his name from the very start. He's decisive and wouldn't have it any other way. ;)
Claire Caterer - THE KEY & THE FLAME (Add to Goodreads): I keep long lists of names that intrigue me. For my current series, I consulted lists of Old English names and names of Celtic origin for the characters who were natives of Anglielle. I've also used names from Celtic mythology. My main character kids' names came from thumbing through name books and having a Eureka! moment. They all make sense, if you think about them.
Chelsea Pitcher - THE S-WORD (Add to Goodreads): I tend to use symbolism in names without meaning to (at least consciously). Before my editor mentioned that two characters in "The S-Word" have symbolic names (Angelina symbolizing "angel" and Lizzie Hart symbolizing "heart"), it honestly hadn't occurred to me. That said, I did once intentionally name a faerie of the Dark Court "Elora," meaning "light," but I promise you, I had a good reason. ;)
Amanda Sun - INK (Add to Goodreads): Most of the names in INK are Japanese, so I go over the names with my friends in Japan to make sure they sound natural. Sometimes I like to choose names with kanji in them that reflect the character's personality, even if it's subtle. So for example, the kendo champion in the book is named Takahashi, a common name that means "tall bridge," but to me it means he is unsurpassable, that he towers over Tomohiro as a dangerous rival. The name also has a good harsh sound to it.
Other names carry over from past manuscripts or story ideas, but distort to fit the new book. For almost all names, I need to sit there a moment and wait for the character to tell me his name before I can move on. :)
Maurene Goo - SINCE YOU ASKED (Add to Goodreads): So not magical or creative: I stare at the spines of all my books that sit two feet away from my desk and wait for inspiration to strike. Hence, "David" is the name of one of my main characters—I have so many books by authors with the first name David!
Kit Grindstaff - THE FLAME IN THE MIST (Add to Goodreads): My main character's name came initially as Jemima - a longtime favorite. Then hubby pointed out that here in the U.S., it's associated with not-so-good food products. So I took out the 'i'. Jemma, as it turned out, was far better suited to her.
For other names, I was inspired by a fav teen read, the fabulous Brit GORMENGHAST trilogy (Mervyn Peake, Eyre and Spottiswood, 1946). Peake's wonderful character names totally express who they are. Mine are toned down from his, e.g. Digby, Jemma's down-to-earth friend, and Drudge, the wizzened old servant at Agromond Castle.
Jemma's main antagonist's name, Shade, has a particular twist in it that nobody, and I mean nobody, has guessed at, despite the fact that there's another character whose name reveals a similar twist near the end. (Love that!). The rest of the Agromonds started out Peake-esque, which became too cartoonish for them, so I adapted Celtic god/goddess names that zinged with their personalities.
Ryan Graudin - ALL THAT GLOWS (Add to Goodreads): Usually my main characters tell me their names. I try to research the meanings behind them, to make sure they fit, and most of the time they do! For example, Emrys's name came to me before I knew it meant "immortal," but it certainly fits her character. Sometimes I do borrow names from people I know or have come across in real life.
For Richard, I tried to use a traditional royal name that hasn't been used in recent times. I also try not to have names that start with the same letter in a manuscript (which isn't always possible, but I do TRY). This means that sometimes I have to change a character's name during drafts, and it always takes me a few months to get used to the new name!
Alison Cherry - RED (Add to Goodreads): When I'm naming my main characters, I spend a LOT of time on the social security website, reading lists of the top one thousand baby names for various years. I can't picture a character until I know his or her name, and when I find the right one, I know RIGHT away—the character suddenly springs to life in my head. I have never once changed my mind about someone's name after I've chosen it. Secondary characters—as well as towns and schools—are often named after my friends.
Demitria Lunetta - IN THE AFTER (Add to Goodreads): With me, character names are very hit or miss. Some character names are easy and work great, they just come to me and stick (My MC for IN THE AFTER, Amy is a great example of this.) Others go through many changes. One example, I started off with a girl named Ruth, who then turned into Janet, who ended up being Amber. When I'm looking for a name I listen to every name on television and read every credit. I also go through every name of friends and friends of friends for ideas.
Liz Fichera - HOOKED (Add to Goodreads): Names are so important. They usually conjure up an image in my head. I get lots of names from movies, particularly old black and white movies and cult films. Everything old is new again.
Erin Bowman - TAKEN (Add to Goodreads): For me, it all comes down to sound. The name itself--plain, elegant, harsh, etc--has to match the character's personality to some degree or it never feels quite right. If I look up a name meaning and it also mirrors the character's personality, that's an added bonus. Usually I have a pretty good idea of each personality heading in, so I slap the first fitting name that comes to mind on the page when a character enters the story and run with it. Sometimes it sticks, sometimes it changes, but in the end, the final name usually has a similar sound/tone as the original.
Jacqueline Green - TRUTH OR DARE (Add to Goodreads): I love sneaking names of my friends and family into my writing! For example, one of the secondary characters in TRUTH OR DARE is named Tyler Cole -- drawn from my two nephews, Tyler and Cole. For main characters, though, I often comb through list of baby names, looking for one that just feels right. It's kind of like naming a child!
Jennifer McGowan - MAID OF SECRETS (Add to Goodreads): With historical fiction, most of my characters actually existed. The names for my spies were developed by reviewing period-accurate names and seeing which one 'fit' the character best--except for my assassin, whose name I also used for the heroine of my very first romance manuscript. I never forgot her! :)
Jennifer Ann Mann - SUNNY SWEET IS SO NOT SORRY (Add to Goodreads): The inspiration for my story came from my friend, Maria, who happens to be from Russia. The Russian nickname for Maria is Masha. So of course the main character's name had to be Masha. As to Masha's last name, I just love the sound of "S," so I named her, Masha Sweet. When it came time to name Masha's little sister, I chose a common Russian girl name, Sonya (again, the "S"). Sonya's nickname in the story is Sunny, and my title was born...SUNNY SWEET IS SO NOT SORRY.
K.A. (Kelly) Barson - 45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS) (Add to Goodreads): I started writing 45 POUNDS way back in the days of chat rooms and weird user names. My MC's user name was Ann_Onymous because she felt invisible. The story has changed drastically over the years, but to change Ann's name felt like renaming one of my kids. So it stayed.
Lindsey Scheibe - RIPTIDE (Add to Goodreads): I picked my main character's name, Grace, because I felt it was a bit symbolic for her. My main character, Ford, was the result of a brainstorming session until I felt like I connected with him as a character. Once I got his name, everything else fell into place. In other manuscripts/WIPs I have going, sometimes I look up name meanings and other times the name pops up in my head out of nowhere and or I brainstorm until I know it's right.
Polly Holyoke - THE NEPTUNE PROJECT (Add to Goodreads): Because I write fantasy and science fiction, I've been creating names for a long time. I often get out my baby name books and find a name that I like. Then I free write the name several times, changing just a letter or two until I come up with a name that flows and doesn't seem too awkward, unpronounce-able or artificial. Sometimes a deeper meaning or symbolism is involved. I created Nere's name, my heroine who is forced to live in the sea in THE NEPTUNE PROJECT, from the Nereid, or daughters of Neptune.
Betsy Cornwell - TIDES (Add to Goodreads): I have so much fun naming characters—in college I sometimes doodled their names in my notebooks, which isn’t weird at all. Sometimes I’m just sure right away what my characters’ names are: in Tides, Lo was always Lo—even though her appearance and personality were very different at first. I really like digging through lists of names and their meanings, which is how I pick last names in particular. I don’t have my kids’ names planned, but I know the names of my main characters in my next three books!
Tara Sullivan - GOLDEN BOY (Add to Goodreads): GOLDEN BOY tells the fictional story of one boy that reflects the current reality of many people. For that reason, I didn't pick "real" names for all of the characters in the novel. For key characters I chose Swahili words that have a significance. Habo, my main character, is short for "dhahabo," the Swahili word for "gold." This is because, though I found many awful names that people with albinism are called, I found only one good name: the parents of children with albinism in Africa often refer to them as their "golden children." Other character's names, Asubuhi, Alasiri, and Kweli, for example, also have meanings in Swahili. Kweli, a blind sculptor, has a name that means "truth." But if you want to know what the truth is, you'll have to read the book!
And for me? Since SKY JUMPERS takes place in a post-apocalyptic future, I use a mix of names that have stood the test of time and names that have been tweaked, the way names tend to do each generation. I name my characters as soon as they walk on the page, but my main character, Hope, walked around for a full year after I started the draft before I finally figured out what her name had been all along.
Peggy Eddleman is the author of the middle grade post-apocalyptic adventure SKY JUMPERS book 1: THROUGH THE BOMB'S BREATH (Random House, 9/24/13) She hangs out at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains in Utah with her three hilarious and fun kids (two sons and a daughter), and her incredibly supportive husband. Besides writing, Peggy enjoys playing laser tag with her family, making dinner, reading to her kids, toilet papering friends’ houses, doing cartwheels in long hallways, trying new restaurants, and occasionally painting murals on walls. You can find her online here: