Character of the Week: Dystopian California Names

There are no small characters, only short character descriptions.

The Writer Describes the Character

He’s somewhat of a minor character, but the poor guy still needs a name! He has a tentative one, but it doesn’t really fit him or his society at all. 

Male, 18
He was born in an enclosed and tightly controlled dystopian city, and raised in a work house. His society is very similar to present day US in terms of ideals and societal values, but with a degraded economy and completely ruined environment. Based loosely off San Francisco.
Never knew his parents, but he was a product of rape and was abandoned by the mother. Raised by distant and often drug addicted caretakers.
He interacts with Grisha, Gabriel, Julie, and Simon.
Has worked in a plastic factory and currently works as a drug mule for Grisha. He doesn’t exactly have a love interest as much as a man-crush on Grisha. As a person, he’s rather shy and withdrawn, but he’s smart and very caring, although he has a jealous and rash side. He’s wary of people but likes books, even though he isn’t an exceptional reader.

Since this character was born in a future California, I looked first at names that are popular in California and tried to guess what might be popular in the future. Then I considered names which felt similar to the names used (other than the Russian Grisha, who seemed somewhat separate from the others), but with a bit more edge.

My Reply to the Writer

  • Felix
  • Declan
  • Wilder
  • Brant
  • Nolan

The writer replied: Thank you so much! I like all of them. I’m not sure how I’m going to pick! Thanks, again!

Even though this character was clearly labeled “minor” by this writer, I didn’t name him that way. If a character deserves a full character description (something beyond friendly waitress with a heart of gold), then I believe the character deserves a well-considered name. I’m sure this is partially because all I know about these stories is through the nameless character’s eyes, and because I always try to imagine the story being told from the newly named character’s perspective.

Character of the Week: A Robot and His Dog Names

This one was a truly unique naming.

The Writer Describes the Character

Okay, my characters aren’t exactly HUMAN, but they have human names. 

Gender: Male
Species: Robot/AI (humanoid)
Age: Unknown (est. 150+)
Where born/raised: New York City
Info about parents: (father) Government scientist and robotics engineer, conservative
Career and characteristics: he doesn’t really have a “career”. He goes around from place to place, basically surviving. He usually just collects things that catch his eye. He is very small, about three and a half feet tall, with a battered silver-blue metal frame. He’s humanoid, with five fingers and no toes. His body is made of simple rounded shapes, his entire torso just an egg and his arms rounded. He wears a yellow construction hat with a bright light attached to it, has a backpack with one strap across his chest, and heavy brown gloves. His head is rounded at the top and flatter on the bottom, with a single blue-light eye. He wears a red bandanna around his neck. He has an MP3 player attachment inside of his chest (a plate slides down). He takes snippets of the song lyrics in order to communicate with the humans that he meets.
Genre: Sci-fi, Apocalypse
Note: He’s a little robot, so I’d sorta like something simple. Also, he refers to himself as “Sir ___” because he calls his dog/companion “Lord ___”, so something that sounds okay or cool with “Sir” would be wonderful.

Gender: Male
Species: Dog
Age: Unknown (est. 1-1.5)
Where born/raised: Unknown (found in Washington D.C.)
Names of parents/siblings/love interests: Angel (female German Shepherd)
Career and characteristics: he basically survives along with his companion (above). They are packmates in his eyes, with his companion being the alpha. He hunts the small animals that they find, which are surprisingly plentiful. He looks like a Golden Retriever, but with slightly shorter fur and a more reddish-gold coloring. His eyes are golden brown, and one if his ears is shredded.
Genre: Sci-Fi, Apocalypse
Note: He is referred to as “Lord ___” by the above character, so something that sounds cool like that would be nice. Oh, and a unique, human, name, too. Not Spot or Spike or Rufus. Foreign names are welcome for either character.
Thank you! I don’t know if you can do non-humans, but it would be much appreciated!

So this robot character seems a little like a Wall-e, but with some different quirks. Any creature who refers to himself as Sir So-and-So, and to his dog as Lord Not-Dog-Name, is definitely quirky. I just had to discover in what way.

I tried to put myself into this robot’s mind, to think about why he would like using these honorifics and what may have inspired his name choices. I think I had a good concept, but I could see the writer using my thought to come up with other name choices.

My Reply to the Writer

I have chosen names from the Round Table (or related names). Sirs became Lords, and Kings became Sirs. I think anyone who calls himself Sir and his dog Lord would probably be obsessed by or inspired by something.

  • Sir Benwick
  • Sir Arthur
  • Sir Pellinor
  • Sir Loth
  • Sir Gaul
  • Lord Gallath
  • Lord Lionel
  • Lord Tristan
  • Lord Ector
  • Lord Mordred

The writer replied: Thank you so much! Those names are amazing! I like Sir Pellinor and Lord Tristan the best.

This naming definitely made me think. I think that’s what I love about Sci-Fi and Fantasy namings: I have to stretch myself to consider the characters’ worlds and perspectives before I can search for appropriate names. You see, character motivation is important on so many levels.

Character of the Week: All-American Names

Sometimes the greatest thing you can do is to make each of your characters distinct.

The Writer Describes the Character

Male, 170s (in a future when the average life expectancy for human men is around 230)
He was born in the middle of the Mors Epidemic/Virus; hundreds upon thousands were killed. Grew up alone, father died from the Mors when he was ten, mother died in his thirties. (Father was a scientist that was trying to replicate and improve modern technology, mother worked in medical supplies.)
Other characters are named: Cainnech McLeod; Anchel Indari; Bailshar Parandeh; Caden E. Chastain; Whitney Ashmore (Criminal investigator).
He works in large technologies like ships/cars/satellites.
Sci-Fi Thriller

I actually need this character to have a full name!

My first step when naming characters for other writers is to look up the origin and meaning of the names that writer has already chosen for characters. In this way I discover the writer’s naming style. This writer gave each character a very ethnically distinct first/last name combo.

My Reply to the Writer

You didn’t say what ethnicity/country the character was from, and I see that all of the other characters have strong identities, so I chose a very all-American sounding name.

  • Willie Hughes
  • Mike Hughes
  • Ronnie Hughes
  • Alan Hughes
  • Jimmy Hughes

Since this writer didn’t reply I don’t know if any of these names were used. I sort of assume that the writer wanted a name that was more culturally distinct (something Asian or African, perhaps).

I think this is an interesting naming convention for a futuristic society. From what I imagine, each character interacts with a diverse population but they give their children names that are tied to their historical past. This helps to keep each character distinct in the minds of readers.

Review: The Last Year Book Series by Trisha Leigh

I downloaded Whispers in Autumn by Trisha Leigh several months ago when it was free on Amazon. I began to read it almost immediately, which is saying something. It is exactly the kind of book I normally enjoy: Young Adult, first person, female narrator, lite Science-Fiction, with Romance.

I was predisposed to like this novel (and the series), but there have been other books that should have fit the bill but didn’t. Whispers in Autumn surpassed my meager expectations, and the series (The Last Year) has become one of my favorites.

Some of the things I loved about this book, and the whole series:

  • Those covers! (It had to be said.)
  • Each novel was complete, while leading directly into the next in the series.
  • The consequences of the characters’ choices increased as the story continued.
  • The characters had to deal with realistic losses.
  • The ending was happy, but tempered by the characters’ reality.
  • While there was a love triangle, it wasn’t the most important thing in any of the characters’ lives.
  • There is a gay character who struggles to understand his feelings in a world where differences and emotions have been severely limited. His being gay is not that big of a deal to our heroine (his friend).
  • The series was serious without being dark, so I can see myself re-reading it in its entirety.
  • I liked the names.

I bet you were waiting for that last part. Weren’t you?

I did like the names in this series. There was a nice balance between familiar but unusual, common, and rare names. I’ll touch on some of the categories of names.

  • The four dissidents were given names from their human parents’ cultures (if you read it, you’ll understand). Althea, our heroine, is an American-born girl with an unusual name which is not “out there”. Lucas, the boy she meets in the first book, had a French mother who gave him a popular name (which is especially popular as a character name). Pax, the boy she meets in the second book, had a mother from Brazil who gave him a rare name which probably came from her faith. Deshi, a boy with a Chinese mother, rounds out the quadrille with an interesting name for a conflicted character.
  • Their human friends have mostly familiar names, some common and some not so common. Leah, Brittany, and company have names that do a good job of making the world feel familiar and real.
  • The Others, the aliens who are the villains of the story, have an interesting naming convention. Those who are named seem to have names that are grown from common nicknames with a –j ending. So we have Zakej, Natej, and Kendaja. I love the simple way the author gave the aliens names that kept them culturally similar, while not being difficult for readers to pronounce or connect with.

I really loved The Last Year series, and I hope that if you like this type of story that you will give this series a chance. When I started reading self-published novels I found on Amazon I wasn’t sure if they could compare to the level of quality of published novels. They can. This series did.

I think that part of the reason why I enjoyed this series so much is that Trisha Leigh was a professional. She hired a development editor and a copy editor, and she hired a book cover artist. I would consider hiring all of them. As a writer, especially as a “poor” writer, I do not say this lightly. I have read other self-published novels that were “professionally” edited which did not compare to this series on any level.

Trisha Leigh hired good people, and she obviously took their advice. I look forward to reading her up-coming series and following her career.

Name Theory: World Building, Societies, and Names

There are genres in which you may do the character naming early in your process, and there are other genres where the character naming should come after some substantial world building.

In contemporary fiction, you can generally look for appropriate names anytime. In fact, you may even start with a character name and “discover” the character’s story and plot afterwards.

If you are writing historical fiction about a place and time-period which you have studied, you may also name your characters early in the outlining process.

However, the more world building your novel will require is directly related to how much planning ought to go in before you name your characters.

Let’s take for example the werewolf namings I did a few weeks ago. As you may recall, I pointed out that if you werewolf was bitten s/he would have been named something unrelated to wolves or the moon or what-have-you; if your werewolf is instead a part of a werewolf society, with packs and power designations, then s/he may have been named something more obviously wolfy. I would challenge you to think that example even further, though, and to consider naming your society of werewolves with names related to their familial lines (e.g. the leader’s family would have more powerful and strong-sounding names, while the others may have more traditionally occupational names to signify their “worker” status). Or you could go with the cheesy/cutesy all the Alphas have Al- names (Alexei, Alejandro, Alegra), the Betas have B- names (Beth, Benji, Bartholomew), et cettera.

Fictional werewolves (usually) live in our contemporary world, so these characters could be named once their origin and familial structure is worked out, but before the entire plot is planned; however, characters in a future or alien setting would require more world building before naming.

Take for example this week’s King. The writer of this story ought to have worked out exactly what the society is like, what part technology plays (whether it is “nothing” as stated, or “steampunk” as also stated), and the power structure of the last 50-100 years that may affect the characters mores and what parents in that society would be naming their children. For example, when the King decided to have society revert to a Victorian-like society he could have insisted that everyone take on names from a Victorian Names Registry (like the registries that some countries use for baby naming). There would then be many Johns and Marys, and no Jaxons and Mackenzies, in this post-apocalyptic society.

Names are a reflection of society. In our modern society being unique and independent are important, so we give our children more unusual names. If your novel is set now or in the near future, you can easily assume the characters will have a selection of some of the currently popular names mixed with some strikingly-distinctive names. If, however, your novel society is not our own, then you need to discover what is important to the parents of that society, and how they would name their babies.

Character of the Week: Steampunk King Names

In honor of Presidents’ Day, I thought I should choose a “leader” naming. This one is a King’s naming.

Male, 26 in 2160 (Futuristic-Victorian-Steampunk)
Where born/raised: Don’t have this fully worked out yet.
His dad was a primary politician who was one of the ones who brought on the war that devastated civilization. He neglected his wife to the point where she got sick and gave up living. Very destructive man.
Other characters are Tim O’Brien, Brinn McAllen, Gus, Claire Ferguson, and Jenny Newport.
He’s the antagonist of the story. He’s the King of a post-apocalyptic society in which technology has reverted back to early 1900s. (He’s officially titled the King, but everyone thinks of him more as a Prince because he’s fairly young.)
My villain believes that man is inherently evil and prone to destruction. He witnessed first-hand the downfall of the modern world, and now seeks to make sure it doesn’t happen again. He believes that the cause for the downfall was technology and money, so he limits them both. Technology, he has removed almost completely. Money, he allows to thrive for those individuals he deems ‘non-destructive.’ Destructive behaviors include strong beliefs, ability to stand up for one’s self, creative or forward-thought, as well as a few other things.

First off, I want to say that I would not want to read this novel; my reasons are below. Despite my opinions on this novel’s potential, I still found the idea of naming this King fascinating. He is a villain, and they are always interesting (and usually have interesting names); he doesn’t seem to care much for tradition, so he may have chosen a more elevated-sounding name for himself; and, the fact that the other characters’ names are common and mostly Irish led me to consider British names for him.

A British-named King seemed like a good antagonist for this story, especially since the writer labeled the story “Victorian.” I looked up names from that era and chose names I thought sounded both “young” and villainous.

I see you’ve chosen many Irish names for your characters, so I thought a British-named King would be a good contrast.

  • King Ambrose
  • King Eldon
  • King Harland
  • King Jeptha
  • King Zebulon

The writer didn’t reply about this naming. I could speculate as to why, but I’d rather talk about my hopeless feeling about this novel.

I feel like the writer’s choices were conflicting and potentially destructive to the story. First, this is a “Futuristic-Victorian-Steampunk”, and while I’ve read a book that could be described thusly I think it would be best if the writer focused on either the Futuristic or Victorian aspect. Second, the writer has worked out a lot of this character’s motivations (all good), but hasn’t settled on the character’s background; I think the character’s background, including some information about his mother that makes her more well-rounded, should be fleshed out before his motivations are finalized. Third, the writer says that the King is considered a “Prince” because he is young, but at 26 the character is not that young for a King (especially historically), and if people consider him like a Prince he probably wouldn’t be given enough respect or power to have the absolute control he seems to have. Fourth, I don’t know how characters who do not have strong beliefs or the ability to stand up for themselves would be able to make their money “thrive”, whether he allowed them to or not. Fifth, the writer listed this novel’s genre as “Sci-Fi/Steampunk/Youth” even though there is no science or technology that would make it Sci-Fi, nothing other than a reference to Victorian to make it Steampunk, and no mention of truly young characters who would make this a Young Adult novel; this novel may well deserve any or all of these genre designations, but I don’t see evidence of them in this and I’m not convinced the writer is clear on what each of these genre designations mean.

I hope this all doesn’t sound harsher than I mean it to. I just wanted to point out that in this instance I feel that the writer should focus more on his or her world building and plot development before coming to the detail of naming. While I think names are important for the finished story, and that main characters should be named before writing begins, I think this story needs more plotting before it would be time to decide on names and naming conventions in this world.

Character of the Week: Zombie Apocalypse Names

I recently read my first zombie novel. It was a zombie romance, not a horror. Horror will never be my thing, but the zombie romance was surprisingly good. The best part was that the zombie boyfriend changed for the girl, rather than her having to change for him. Feminism in the post-apocalyptic era.

That read inspired my choice for this week’s post.

Female, early- to mid-40s, Contemporary
Born in Canada to English parents. She is conservative. Her mother was a housewife, and her father was a banker.
Other characters include her daughter Emma, a girl named Olivia, a boy named Logan and his as yet unnamed teenaged sister.
She is a nurse with a very take charge personality, and she also channels this through a need to mother other younger characters.

Female, early teen (born in the late nineties), Contemporary
Raised in Canada. She is fairly liberal. Her mother was a chef and her father was a doctor. She is the sister to Logan.
Student/Spunky, brave and loyal.

I wish I knew where in Canada these characters were from, since it could have helped me get a better selection of names. As it is the names I found for the mother character were typical names in the USA at the same time.

For the teen I looked for names that could work with Logan, but I was also open to more creative choices since their mother was a Chef.

  • Heather
  • Joanne (Jo)
  • Melinda
  • Tara
  • Susan
  • Pepper
  • Scout
  • Lucy
  • Alexa
  • Zoe

The writer replied: Thanks! This was really helpful. I think I’ll use Susan and Zoe.

I would have liked to have chosen more interesting names for these characters—as an adventure story invites dynamic names—but it was obvious that this writer preferred popular names. I still think a chef’s daughter named Pepper would be a fun choice.


NOTE: The writer’s original information referred both to this being in the modern day (which I edited to say Contemporary) and to it being a “Zombie Apocalypse” story. I assume she meant for the story to be set in the near future. I have tagged this post as both Contemporary (since the names are contemporary choices for the characters’ ages) and Dystopian (assuming any apocalypse would lead to the opposite of a utopia).

Name Theory: Envisioning the Future

In the future of this week’s Character of the Week, the national boundaries of Europe are the same and characters have very culturally ethnic names. It’s not the future I would imagine.

Everyone imagines the future differently. Some people imagine it very much like is now, although history tells us that is probably not what will happen since change is inevitable. Some people, like politicians, will spew their party’s perfect version of the future and the possible annihilation that the other party will bring about. Some people imagine great strides in science. And some can only imagine the destruction of the environment and sometimes the accompanying destruction of mankind.

Writers imagine all of this and more. We imagine regimes that rise worldwide to create massive cultural dictatorships. We imagine worldwide wars. We imagine post war fascism. And sometimes we imagine a future where people have special powers and kick butt.

Our versions of the future are as diverse as the future can be. Politically. Scientifically.

Ethnically, not so much. In my (admittedly limited) experience, writers either seem to ignore race and create an essentially white future or they use race to show illustrate the racism of today.

If I were to write the future race wouldn’t be the focus, but it would be important. In my future you would all be like me—Hispanic.

What is Hispanic but the melting of ethnicities and races. Hispanics can be the blackest of black, the whitest of white, and anything in between. We have ancestors with various Native American, African, Spanish, Portuguese, Irish, German, and a plethora of other backgrounds. We are a melted pot of humanity.

In my future pure races would be gone, due to infertility and intermarriage. In my future people would still come in every shade from eggshell to ebony, but race wouldn’t be the thing that matters at all. The drama would come from other sources.

It’s just an idea, but it’s something I’m fermenting. For after I finish the other 20 books I have germinating in my mind.

What would you name the characters in my future? Would they have ethnically blended names like Maria Li? Or would you give them smashup names like Carlinov? Or would you choose something different altogether?

Name Theory: Bad Names Ruin Books

Character names matter.


At least, they matter to name geeks like me.

Now when I read book descriptions the names help me make the decision of whether I should read the book or not, of whether the names will work or whether they will distract me.

A friend of mine suggested Book Bub to me, and I’ve been getting daily e-mails with recommendations of free downloadable books. As I read through the book’s descriptions, and their reviews, trying to think if I would enjoy the book enough to let it take up space on my iPhone, one of the things I look at are the character names.

Sometimes the names help. Sometimes the names are so good I want to read about that character. This doesn’t happen very often.

Sometimes the names are a definite hindrance. Sometimes I know the stupid and “out of character” names will only make a bad—or even a decent—book that much worse. This happens more often than I can believe. (I sometimes want to yell at the descriptions, “Seriously? That’s ridiculous! That’s the most unbelievable/krazy kre8ive/wrong for the time and or place name possible!”)

Sometimes the names as silly and wrong, but if the book is silly and just a “for fun” read it doesn’t matter so much. Sometimes the names remind me to not take the book too seriously (especially if it was FREE!).

Names do matter to me, and I’m sure they matter to a lot of readers—if only subconsciously.

For example, I am currently waiting for the third book in a trilogy I’m reading to come out. I love the series, which is a sort of dystopian young adult series with some excellent book covers. And I love, love, love the heroine’s name. But… the two love interests’ names are wah-wah. To say they disappoint me would be an understatement. It’s more like every time I read them I think yuck and I want to shake the writer and yell, “Why?”

I still can’t decide who the heroine of that series will end up with. I think it’s going to be the one with the stupider name, but I really hope it’s the one with the trite name (the one that’s been given to a dozen love interests before). I just can’t stand the one with the bad name, and I think it makes me think of him as an even bigger jerk than the writer intended to write him as. Maybe she doesn’t even think he’s a jerk at all, but I really do. That name has ruined everything good about that character for me.

So, please, if you plan to publish your novel, think carefully about your names. Give the hero/love interest a sexy or rugged or kind name, and leave the questionable names for side characters. The name you chose may just decide who your readers’ root for, and whether or not the potential reader will even pick up your book at all!

Character of the Week: Sorta/Kinda Hebrew Names

A few people asked me to make up names, which I found very difficult. Here, I only had to sorta/kinda make them up, which was much easier.

Male, 25, Medieval-based period
His parents were both farmers, raising wheat. They staunchly supported the Royal Family and State Religion.
People he interacts with: Osher, Noam, Ellia, Agrim, Shira, Priel, Rena, and Vered.
He is a rebel, choosing to live on the mountainside instead of cooperating with the State Religion.
Note: The majority of names I have used so far are vaguely Hebrew-based. This isn’t a necessity, but it would help his name fit in with the general themes of religious power within this community.

I was glad for the note, so I knew what the writer was looking for. In this case the names chosen were “vaguely Hebrew-based”, which I took to mean some real names in Hebrew and some made up names that seemed Hebrew-ish. I had recognized several names as being Hebraic (in fact, I know a toddler named Shira) but I wasn’t sure if the others were from a source I didn’t know. The note told me they were created to suit the world.

I was glad the writer had a strong naming style for his Dystopian world, and it certainly helped me select a list of names for this character.

  • Zaac
  • Halivah
  • Sathnah
  • Beneb
  • Sidoah

Rereading my list, I feel like Beneb was probably the strongest choice for this farmer’s son turned rebel. Zaac may sound too modern, and may be best kept for a sexier character. Sathnah may sound too feminine, but Sath could be a good name for this character. The others may be better suited for more intellectual characters. No matter what, I still like the choices as they suit the world and I would be interested in reading the book.