We’ve already shared our not-so-checkered pasts when it comes to the history of our own names. For this go-round, we decided to share how we came up with the perfect names for our beloved characters. Hint: It’s sometimes more complicated than just picking a name out of a hat.
As I mentioned in our post about book titles, my original plan was to have my series titles named after acronyms. I’ve never been one to shy away from a theme, so I also gave all my main characters initials that formed acronyms. I tried to be creative when possible. Like the love interest’s initials spell out O.M.G. and the over-the-top best friend is S.M.H. I briefly played with the book title being D.O.A. and I wanted my main character’s full name to match. I have a friend named Dana and I always liked the name, so it stuck. Dayna Olivia Anderson was born! I’m not quite sure where the extra Y came from. But I am obviously all for extra vowels in names.
I wanted my protagonist to have an old-fashioned Southern name that could easily create a contemporary nickname. So she’s Maggie. Short for Magnolia, a name that’s been handed down in her family for a century and a half. As to my other characters, I just play around with names until I hit one that feels right. I also do a lot of Google searching for popular Cajun names. I start each book by listing the alphabet, and I cross off letters as I use them so I don’t end with four characters whose names begin with C, which has happened. Of course, now that I’m on book three, that’s becoming harder.
One name does have sentimental value for me, though. Maggie’s love interest is nicknamed Bo. The character of “Beau” figures prominently in my first one-act play, Graceland, and we meet him in its companion piece, Asleep on the Wind. Beau’s path is tragic, but I’ve always loved him. So my Cajun Country Mysteries Bo is an homage to a fictional character who’s always felt real to me.
I mostly name my characters by personality and era-appropriateness. For example, my twenty-something sleuth Summer has a (mostly) sunny outlook and she’s a California beach girl who now lives in the Sunshine State. She’s also into water sports, and you may remember Summer Quinn, the Baywatch lifeguard. Quinn is my middle name, and in high school I really liked the Beach Boys album Endless Summer. Perfect sense, right? My more careful sleuth Dorothy was born in the decade that brought us The Wizard of Oz, and I’ve never known any Dorothys who were troublemakers. You can probably guess how my sleuths got their last names, Smythe and Westin. But I especially have fun with my secondary characters. In Cardiac Arrest, Mary Lee Messinger was named after my mom’s college roommate. I also mix and match names of people I’ve known in my life (cleverly disguising them, of course). So check out my books—YOU could be in there!
My favorite game to play when I’m driving is combining street names to create interesting character names, like Alida Lincoln or Sydney Fowler. My friend’s AirBnB where I sometimes go for a writer’s retreat is located on the corner of Channing and Griswold, and so of course now I’m trying to decide if Mr. Channing Griswold should be a character in my next book. For my main character in Terror in Taffeta, it was more of a process. She was originally named Kate, but it turns out that there’s a whole police force’s worth of sleuthing Kates out there. (And I can see why. It’s a great name!) I liked the strong K sound, so I brainstormed a whole lot of K names, and I finally settled on Kelsey—but it still took me a long time before I could think of her as anything but Kate. Other times, the characters practically name themselves. In book two, I had the idea of a rival wedding planner and the name Babs Norton just popped into my head, along with a corresponding personality. Funny, but I can’t see her being named anything but Babs Norton at this point!
Readers, what do you think makes a great character name? And if you’re a writer, how do you come up with yours?
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