Naming Characters

Because I’m attempting to be a planner and not a pantser (writing by the seat of my pants), I created a couple of family trees and a chart with all the important characters hovering around the protagonist in my current novel-in-progress. This meant I had to come up with everyone’s names quickly.

I take creating character names seriously and it can drive me a little crazy. I know that I can always change a name later, but, as they tend to stick, I try to get the name right from the start. Coming up with a whole bunch at one time was STRESSFUL!

When naming characters I keep the ethnic backgrounds and time/place of birth in mind. In this particular project, I’ve got a wide range backgrounds and ages. The action of the book takes place in New York City and in the surrounding region, so the cast of characters is a mix reflecting the people around me. I also have one character originally from the Netherlands and another from Germany.

For the two Europeans, I relied on handy name lists on the Internet. I find these lists very useful when looking for both first and last names from particular countries and regions. It’s interesting to note that some last names are associated with particular regions in Italy and that similar sounding names have different spellings in related languages. Since this is a complete work of fiction, the least I can do is get the immigrants’ names right.

The age of a character is also connected with their name. Lists of popular baby names from particular years are something worth factoring into the decision. The year I was born Susan, Linda, Nancy, Barbara, Donna and Cynthia were all in the top ten for girls. Michael, Robert, David, Mark, Steven and John were popular for boys. I grew up with a lot of kids with these popular names. They are my contemporaries. Last year was a big year for Liam, Jacob, Noah, Ethan and Mason. I remember one Mason in high school. Emma, Sophia, Ava, Mia, Olivia…there were lots of lovely girls’ names in 2014. Only one name that I remember from school, Abigail, made the top 10.

Of course family names and parents with original approaches to naming strategies are also factors. My parents went to literature for Candida (the play by George Bernard Shaw). My friend Grace was named for Princess Graces of Monaco while my friend Winston was named after Winston Churchill.

So many names!!!


  1. -grin- Yes! My Mum was reading a book in which the main character was called Andrea, so instead of calling me by a ‘proper’ Hungarian name like Ilonka or Ildiko etc, I became Andrea. It was not till well over 30 years later that I discovered Andrea is a boy’s name in Italian. Was Mum reading a book by an Italian author? I’m still puzzling over that one.

    I’m obsessed with names for my characters too, although they tend to present themselves one by one, not by the dozen! lol

    How’s the outline going, btw?

    • Candy Korman

      I’m used to going one by one with the names, but it’s not practical with the outline. Although I was named after the G.B.Shaw character, my mom was reading a Patricia Wentworth mystery with a character named Candida and that reminded mom of seeing Marlon Brando (as a young and handsome actor)playing the young poet who falls in love with the married Candida and asks her to run away with him. So my name is really sourced twice (and from a book like your name). Many, many years later, my and I were attending a Mystery fiction conference and I found a hardcover copy of that particular Wentworth novel and bought it for her for Mother’s Day.

      As for the outline…
      On some level I’ve realized my transformation from pantser to planner must be approached with baby steps. I’ve outlined the first story arc and I know that there will be three and what will be the big climatic moment. I can’t seem to make an outline for the entire book. No matter how much I try. hehehehe… there’s a pantser crying out to write!