Naming characters is almost as daunting as naming a new baby. And, once your book goes to print, it’s just as permanent.
Over time, the character becomes almost a living, breathing entity, capable of action, thought, mistakes, and triumph. Dozens of chapters are written, containing your heroine’s quirks and likes, a description of hair, skin, and eyes, her personality, and what makes her laugh or cry. She faces difficult challenges, wrestles with danger, and is forced to examine her biggest fears.
Choosing names is one of my favorite parts of beginning a new story, though I don’t have a specific method that I use for every book. I can, however, give you some insight into the process that works for me. I start by defining a character’s most distinct attributes and traits, and then make a long list of names. Usually, one jumps out at me right away.
In Center of Gravity, I knew that I wanted my heroine’s name to reflect a person gentle, gracious and sensitive. She needed to be intelligent and caring, but still a bit naive, especially where men were concerned. She is trusting, in fact, too trusting for her own good.
Ava seemed the perfect designation, and brought to mind the late actress Ava Gardner (even though my Ava is a strawberry blonde). In Latin, Ava means “life.”
For my hero, Jack, Ava’s 8 year-old stepson, I needed a strong name, one that indicated he was a rough and tumble boy, one capable of a little mischief, but with a big heart. The name Jack dates back to the Crusades, and to me, brings about images of a younger President “Jack” John Kennedy.
In creating Mitchell Carson, Ava’s husband, I pictured a person charming and debonair; a man who turned heads and commanded attention.
In Center of Gravity, Mitchell always looks put together, dresses well, and keeps his appearance neat and groomed. The origin of the name “Mitchell” is American and means “who is like God.” Mitchell is also referred to as a sharper alternative to Michael.* For me, George Clooney seemed a perfect representation of the novel’s Mitchell Carson.
Graham Thomas, Center of Gravity‘s Harley-driving, leather-wearing lawyer from Nashville, was chosen as I was looking for an edgy, distinct name. Graham has been popular in Scotland and England since the 1950’s and is now gaining popularity in America.
Famous Grahams include race car driver Graham Hill and Canadian Actor Graham Abbey (“Heartland”).
What’s in a Name?
For me, it’s crucial for a name to fit a character’s temperament, appearance, and way of life. I really enjoy jotting down names, paging through baby name websites, and thumbing through books, seeking the right fit. If I’m a few chapters into writing a novel, and a name doesn’t end up ringing true, I don’t hesitate to change it. After all, if a name isn’t working for me, it probably won’t resonate with readers either (which is doubly important to me!)
Do you have any favorite character names?