Character of the Week: Dead Girl Names

Remember how I said that I belong to a Jane Austen book club.

The Writer Describes the Character

Female, mid-20s
She was born and raised in a small town in the Northeastern portion of New York state.
Her father was an auto mechanic and overall a shady character. He abandoned their family when the FMC was around ten and hasn’t been heard from much since. Her mother is a photographer and dreamed of escaping her small town, but never did. She’s incredibly quiet and is an avid reader of romance novels. She was born in Texas, lived in Germany for a time, and ended up in the same town where the FMC was born when she was a teenager. Both parents are in their mid- to late-40s.
Father – Roger, Mother – Anne, Sister – Lydia
Nathaniel – the MMC that the story is centered around, close friends and romantic interest of FMC though he was not aware of the fact; Penelope – FMC’s very self-centered best friend; Scott – Penny’s husband
When she was alive (because she actually dies just prior to the events in the novel), she was an interior decorator (I think, though that might change) and also dabbled in photography like her mother. She was a very compassionate and caring individual, very nurturing. She was, despite outward appearances that claimed otherwise, a very sad and lonely girl.
Literary Fiction

When I’m naming contemporary characters, I take some influence from the character’s personality and background and mix it with my personal experience. Here I noted that the mother is an avid reader of Romances and that the sister is named Lydia. I decided to offer another Jane Austen name for this character, along with other names I felt could fit for this lonely and artistic young woman.

My Reply to the Writer

  • Katherine (Kitty or Kit): Pride and Prejudice reference
  • Naomi
  • Abigail (Abs)
  • Lizette
  • Monica

The writer replied: Thanks so much for this. I had actually considered Katherine before, but I think this just cemented the idea. I really appreciate the help.

Maybe this writer is also a Jane Austen fan, or maybe I just stumbled on a name that fit her sensibilities. I do find it interesting how names can resonate with people for different reasons.

Character of the Week: Busker Names

This one always made me think of Justin Bieber.

The Writer Describes the Character

Male, 18
Born and raised in a big city (I’m considering Chicago or Detroit).
Single mom, worked two full time jobs to support him, as a waitress and a secretary. Dad was never a part of the boy’s life.
Mom: Erica Simms; Dad: Charlie Jacobs; Love Interest: Alexia; Other characters: Erica, John, Aaron, Michael.
Plays guitar, usually just on the streets but has a rock band that occasionally gets gigs.
Realistic Fiction

Since this busker with a single mother reminded me of “the Biebs”, I looked for a name that felt similar to me. I went with common names that weren’t too popular or trendy—something normal and accessible that went with the surname Simms.

My Reply to the Writer

  • Dakota Simms
  • Brett Simms
  • Bryan Simms
  • Wyatt Simms
  • Adam Simms

The writer didn’t reply to me, so I don’t know if any of these names was chosen.

This was a simple naming, yet I see the character clearly and still wonder about his story.

Character of the Week: Cook Names

This one makes me hungry. Or maybe that’s just because it’s almost lunch time.

The Writer Describes the Character

Male, 25-30
Secondary character
Lives in large city (undecided)/never run into the same people twice.
Overworked, drinks too much, huge emphasis on cooking, loves trying recipes out on his wife (main character), doesn’t pay her much attention otherwise.
English decent. Scruffy, rugged appearance, dresses quite nicely but still loves his socks with sandals.
Not overly goal orientated, satisfied with life in general.

I got a really strong image of this character when I read this, and I felt like I knew someone like him (or a few someones like him). I set out to find names that fit the image in my head, and came up with some winners.

My Reply to the Writer

  • Kale
  • Ryne
  • Barrett
  • Jess
  • Lyle

The writer replied: Thanks! Jess and Barrett have made the short list. We’ll see how they fit as the character develops!

Since this character is a home-cook, I played with words a bit in my name choices. Kale is the obvious one—and I bet this character would love the vegetable! Ryne was chosen because it reminded me of the word “rind”, which is also food related. As you know I don’t particularly like choosing names based on their meanings, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t like some word play now and again.

This writer ix-nayed my play, and went for more serious names on my list. This was almost certainly the right choice for this story—and the better choice for most stories overall.

Character of the Week: California Girl Names

This one was a quick naming.

The Writer Describes the Character

Female, about 22
Raised in California.
Her father was a rich business man, she was definitely a daddy’s girl. Mother is a socialite who loves her wealth. Both parents don’t really care about what FMC does, as long as she doesn’t obtain a bad reputation.
Her parents are Frank and Valerie, no siblings, her boyfriend’s name is Louis.
She doesn’t have a job (yet). FMC is a bubbly, typical LA-girl. She’s outgoing and carefree, bitchy at times.

I was inspired by the feminine name of this character’s mother and the fact that she is a daddy’s girl. I saw her as a California princess.

My Reply to the Writer

  • Olivia
  • Gabriela
  • Kayla
  • Ava
  • Kristen

The writer replied: Thank you a lot! I’m going for Olivia I think!

I didn’t overthink this one, and the writer didn’t either. This writer quickly replied to say which name was chosen. Easy peasy.

Character of the Week: Artist Names (and Appreciation)

[Please excuse this blog’s lateness. My computer wasn’t cooperating with me yesterday.]

Remember last week when I said writing—and naming—were work. This writer understood that fact.

The Writer Describes the Character

Female, 23 or 24 (born August 30, 1988)

She grew up in a nice if not well-off neighborhood tucked away in the back roads of Dayton, Ohio. Well-educated, super-smart, public schooling, and graduated from Stanford with a degree in art. She now lives in a posh part of London, with her partner, Julian.

Her mother, Peyton, was a stay-at-home mom, living off her previous husband’s life insurance. Her Father, Neal Archer, was coaching little league baseball, when they fell in love. 

She has one ex-husband, Michael, who cheated on her with her sister, Isobel, and his secretary, Mira Caprice.

Other characters are: Julian Lazarus, Michael Anderson, Pamela Jenkins, and Vivian Michaels.

Art is her passion, and she often spends hours painting portraits of landscapes, messy colors. Blunt, kind, caring, lacks modern day society etiquette skills, sensible fashion taste, disagreeable, hot-tempered. She doesn’t like to take crap from anyone. She has brown eyes, layered, golden-blond hair, and an angular face, with high-cheekbones, and a lightly glossed mouth.


Female, 29-32 (born March 2)

This second character is a high-strung, middle-class woman, approximately. 

She has no romantic interest yet, but she had a long-term boyfriend, Henry, who had an affair and left her heart-broken. She was raised in a small town in New Hampshire, and graduated top of her class, both in high-school and from college (graduated with a medical degree).

All we know about her parents is that they were both doctors and disliked her from birth, not bothering to name her or even leave a note when they left her on the side of the road.

What no one knows is that she has a hardened heart because of the tragedies she’s faced, and can be very emotionally detached in situations dealing with emotion and truths.

She is supposed to make my MC jealous. Very pretty, curly, auburn hair, emerald eyes, and a white smile that knocks your socks off.

Despite my feeling like I didn’t quite understand this story, since the writer only gave me what I needed and didn’t give me the whole plot, this was a simple naming. Probably because the writer gave me what I needed.

As a young divorced woman in a Romance, I felt the first character needed a strong and sexy name—coupled with her return to her maiden name (if she ever gave it up to begin with).

The second woman, who is not the main main, got a more straight-forward name. I saw her as a hard ass with potential for a gooey core (I’ve known a few of these in my day).

My Reply to the Writer

  • Claudia Archer
  • Gabriella Archer
  • Alexis Archer
  • Alyssa Archer
  • Marisol Archer
  • Courtney
  • Chelsea
  • Heidi
  • Heather
  • Lauren

The writer replied: I’m going with Marisol and Lauren for my two mains. Thanks so much. Your names were helpful, and it was very fulfilling to know someone cared enough to do this. I appreciate it.

To this writer I say, You’re Welcome and Thanks for the Thanks.

Character Surname Possibilities

It is difficult for me to give advice on surnames, because other than choosing based on origin, they seem to truly be chosen only due to the preference of the writer. While surnames may be invented or go extinct, they do not come in and out of style like given names and so are therefore easier to mix and match as needed.

The best advice on choosing surnames for characters is:

  1. Make sure it is from the correct culture if your character’s background is mentioned in the story.
  2. Pick a surname that is easy to pronounce (for readability) and spell (for your own sake).
  3. Short surnames of one or two syllables will also help readability.
  4. No nouns. No jokes. And lay off the surnames with too obvious meanings.
  5. Read potential surnames out loud to make sure they don’t sound like something else. (I know a woman whose last name is Hoare, pronounced Whore.)

Here are some of the surnames of our students. I selected names that are not too common (or else you would have come up with them yourself), nor too strange. I’ve tried to give choices for each letter of the alphabet, focusing on names that are more likely to be used in the US.


Surname Possibilities

Aksel: German, meaning Father of Peace

Bamsey: English

Chamblain: French

Clack: English, refers to a chatterer

Druck: Jewish from the German, meaning Print (refers to a printer)


Fiano: Italian place name

Fors: Swedish, meaning Waterfall

Gauger: German, meaning To Wander Around or Stumble

Hambury: English place name




Lindahl: Swedish, meaning Lime Tree Valley

Marra: Italian, meaning Heap of Stones

Monzo: Spanish place name

Noonan: Irish, meaning Beloved or Dear

Ostergaard: Danish and Swedish, meaning Eastern Farmstead

Prout: English, variant of Proud

Quilty: Irish

Rosser: English

Sokol: Slavic, meaning Falcon

Thierry: French, meaning Ruler of the People




Yellen: Americanization of a Norwegian name, meaning Terrace or Ledge


Name Theory: Marks of Distinction

I have a confession to make: A lot of my characters sound the same.

I bet this is a problem for a lot of other writers, especially those like me who write in first person. And this is compounded by the fact that I have a strong written voice (I bet you could read one of my novels and know it was written by me just because you read my blog).

This is a problem. My characters are not me. They are not described as me, they do not act like me, they are not thinly veiled me. But they sound an awful lot like me.

It’s terrible, and it’s something I have to fix before I’m ready to submit to agents.

Making our characters distinct, both from ourselves and from each other is very important. It’s important to the reader who is reading one or more of your novels (no one wants to read multiple novels that sound like they are about the same character) and it’s important so that you as a writer do not become a one book pony.

Plus, the characters deserve distinction.

Over the last week I wrote my first novella, about a character who is a New Adult (rather than a Young Adult) and who is going through an experience that I can’t completely relate to. For these reasons and various others which I won’t bore you with, she has come out sounding less like me and more like herself.

I’m very proud of her. And I’m proud of myself.

Although she retains enough of my voice to still be obviously my character, she is as distinct from me as my sister. In other words, even though we share some DNA we are still very different people.

Writers who care about their characters names often want to choose distinct names for their characters, I think at least subconsciously so that they will make the character distinct from others out there in the same genre. While I understand this desire (and somewhat share it), it’s also important not to confuse having a character with a distinct name with the more laudable having a character with a distinct personality and voice.

Names are important. So is everything else.

I’m really happy that my story shaped up the way it did. I have a first draft for this novella that doesn’t need as much work as my other first drafts because the character has a good voice, and because it has a different sort of plot that is simple and direct but which suits the story.

And, my character has an interesting (but not rare or weird) name. And while I’m not going to tell you what it is, I will tell you I mentioned it in last week’s post when I discussed characters that have essentially the same names.

Character of the Week: Band Member Names

This is a genre I haven’t written about, and one I am not very familiar with.

The Writer Describes the Character

Male, late 20s/early 30s, Contemporary
American, most likely from the East Coast (Philly/DC region)
He is my main character’s best friend (my main character’s name is Max). They’ve known each other since they were teenagers and had a lot of first experiences with each other (drugs, drinking, and so on) but have lately lost touch except through the every so often phone call or run-in. He was in a band in his early/mid-20s that gained local fame and is currently trying to relive that lifestyle (they broke up after the bassist quit to move cross country with his wife). He has a 9-5 sort of job but he hates it and has that older person personality of wishing he was still young/hip. He is still pretty hip, he just doesn’t know how to channel those energies. He’s traveled the US but has never been outside the country (not even Canada) and has lived in the same town his entire life. No girlfriend/no love interest, a younger sister whom he is semi-close with (they don’t talk every day but don’t have to “catch up” when they talk, either), and both his parents are dead and have been for 10 years (car accident).
Magical Realism

(Oh, and John, Nathaniel, Michael, Matthew, and Aeneas are out of the calling, just because I already have too many stories with characters having those names.)

For this naming I took a lot of inspiration from the names I couldn’t use. All of these names say something about the writer’s name preferences (mostly classic names with a  Biblical bent). I searched for names that were popular in Pennsylvania and Maryland about 30 years ago, and limited myself to names that were mostly classic and Biblical (with the exception of the Greek Aeneas, which I assume was used allegorically). I also chose to give the writer a short description of how I saw the character with each of these names.

My Reply to the Writer

  • Luke: A blue jean guy
  • Ryan: A chill guy who likes the ladies, for one night only
  • Zachariah: A romantic at heart who’s only committed to his music
  • Vincent: A tough, hard-living guy
  • Leonard (Leo): An artist

The writer did not reply to say if any of these names would be used, but I could see this writer choosing these names for a variety of characters in this world. (Note: While I do not suggest Luke as a romantic hero name, since it’s been done to death in Romance and Chick-Lit, I suggested it here for a character that is very different in type from the “hero”.)

I do not think I’ve named any other characters for Magical Realism before, and I do not think I’ve read any Magical Realism. I have named many characters in Paranormal and Fantasy, but while some people think Magical Realism is similar to those genres I feel it is very different. While Paranormal novels may be set in a contemporary time/place, the overriding otherness of the characters (even the human characters, who are often set aside as special) makes them long for uncommon names. In Magical Realism, however, everything is very common and ordinary except for the one touch of magic; if the names in this genre stood out as “unique”, it might take away from the “realism” of the setting.


Character of the Week: Runner Names

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but when I was naming characters on the NaNoWriMo forum I asked the writers to answer a list of questions about the characters which would help me name them. Sometimes what I got was a jumble of some answers and some random bits, like today’s naming.

The Writer Describes the Character(s)

I need two characters named. One man. One woman. Both are runners. Woman speedy. Man slow. Woman compulsive, tidy, etc. Man not quite slovenly, but a little rough around the edges. Think hare and tortoise. I thought of Harriet for her, but thought that might be too obvious. I just came up with this plot tonight so I know nothing else that you ask. Oh, except the genre. Literary fiction disguised as romance or vice versa. It will be set in central Ohio, USA. One of them is probably from there while one is not. Both are mid-30s although a May to December thing wouldn’t be bad either. It’s set in the present. They’re probably opposite political parties and he likes dogs while she likes cats. 

Normally, I would rearrange this into a more readable form. Normally, I would have separated out the characters and their characteristics, and have taken out some of the ambiguity (like this writer’s description of the genre).

Most of the namings were not like this one. Most were generally in the form I requested (the form normally featured here). Still, in whichever form, I nearly almost edit the writer’s posts to me so you can understand them more easily and to take out spelling mistakes and other errors.

Today I thought I’d let you see something closer to what I saw, although I did correct a spelling mistake and another error.

As you can see, some of the details here are a little vague, and the writer isn’t set on either the characters or the plot. I did my best with what I was given, considering the feel of the names and what I believed might suit this odd couple.

My Reply to the Writer

Harriet is too long of a name. It reads slow. Also, it’s too old for your character. I suggest a peppy name that indicates quickness.

  • Gina
  • Dana
  • Jodi
  • Dawn
  • Amy
  • Terrance
  • Douglas
  • Stephen
  • Brutus
  • Shaun

The writer replied: Wow! You’re good. Thanks so much.

I don’t know if the writer chose one of these names, or what name was chosen, but today’s post is not about these characters so much as it is an illustration on editing and a door into what I hope to say on Wednesday.

Character of the Week: Bad Driver Names

Sorry to be posting a day late. I have the flu, and I’m not sure I was conscious yesterday morning.

Female, born in the 1980s or early 1990s
Born in the American Midwest.
Other characters include Michelle, Carol, Andy, and Mike.
Works as a truck dispatcher. Not the world’s best driver.
Mainstream Fiction

Since this writer didn’t give me much information about this character (I’m thinking this character is a minor one), I basically looked for names that were popular in the Midwest during the years the character was most likely born. I also looked for names that suited a “bad driver”.

You didn’t give me a lot to go on, so I mostly chose popular names that could go with the names you gave me; keeping in mind that both Michelle and Carol were declining in popularity at the time, these names do offer some contrast in style.

  • Breanna
  • Holly
  • Jasmine
  • Sierra
  • Vanessa

FYI I’m sure you’re aware that Michael and Michelle are essentially the same name, but I just wanted to point that out.

The writer replied: Breanna works for me. Thanks.

It’s obvious this writer likes to keep things simple, from the descriptions of this character to the names given to the other characters. In re-reading this naming, I’m actually surprised that the writer didn’t choose Holly, since it is the least frilly of the names I offered. Still, I did like Breanna best for this bad driver, and I’m glad it was chosen.