Naming characters in your stories requires care


“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/by any other name would smell as sweet…”

(Flickr: Natalie Maynor)

(Flickr: Natalie Maynor)

Or would it?

This famous quote is attributed to Shakespeare’s impetuous Juliet who rationalizes that her Romeo is beloved, despite bearing the name of her family’s sworn enemy.

And it’s true, we are more than just our names.

But, more often they are either something we must live up to or live down.

So, when naming the characters in your novel, be thoughtful.

Resist the urge to simply assign the names of your family members to characters in your story so that they can have a little fame and glory.

Instead, choose names that are relevant and say something about the personality of your hero or heroine.

Or perhaps pick a moniker that will resonate with the era or location in which your story is set.

Having trouble settling on a name that works for your character?

Consider taking a stroll down memory lane in an old yearbook, thumb through some of the dog-eared novels on your bookshelf, or click through the web for something to ignite the naming process.

A quick scan of Google for online name generators will bring up a number of sites that will spit out ideas for names with just the click of a button.

And finally think on some of the classics. What made the character’s names so unique, so relevant and what did they say about the characters themselves?

Some of my favorites include the beautiful Lady Brett Ashley in Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” and Holden Caulfield in “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger.

Among the bizarre, but also bold was Macon “Milkman” Dead III in Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon.” The name would be considered absurd were it not for the character’s back story.

Some stinkers? Well, one that comes to mind is Twilight author Stephenie Meyer’s naming of the daughter of vampire hottie Edward Cullen and his newbie blood-sucking bride Bella Swan.

The name — Renesmee — sparked some heckling of the celebrated author. Meyer defended her choice in the press as one that writers are permitted make in a fantasy novel.

So, what’s in your character’s name? What are your favorites? Which ones had you chuckling?

Kerri S. Mabee is managing editor at Learn more about her at

Kerri S. Mabee

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