Picking the Perfect Name

Naming characters can be one of the trickiest parts of creative fiction writing. You can picture them in your head… but the perfect name eludes you. It’s kinda like when you meet someone familiar at a cocktail party, and their name is right on the tip of your brain. But… is it Jack? James? Joseph? Argh!!!

I always Google any fictional name I come up with. This actually came about as a result not of my writing, but my other career, in radio broadcasting. For years, I worked at a country station under the moniker of “Cricket.” When the opportunity arose for me to temporarily work at a Classic Hits station, I decided I wanted to use my real first name, Holly, coupled with a fake surname. The original name I came up with (I won’t say what it was) turned out to also be the name of an Adult Movie Star! Good thing I Googled it! Ultimately, I settled on the more innocuous “Holly Rivers.”

In a previous blog, I explained how I named my characters in my first novel, A Little Company. I named Pauline after a family friend. And Walter, her little brother, was a Newalis family name. With Tricked, I took the names Patrick and Mariah from two kids I only met once. Two of Patrick’s friends, Seth and Eli, were high school friends of my stepdaughter at the time. (As a matter of fact, I still know Seth. I’m not even sure he knows he’s in a book… I never ask permission!)


ALC cover 2


Sometimes I choose a character’s name because I see it spelled in an uncommon way. I once saw a business woman wearing a name badge that said “Christal.” I used the unusual spelling for the main character in my short Christmas story, Grace in the City. Another time, when I was apartment hunting, I saw a child’s artwork hanging on the refrigerator. It was signed “Karolyn.” I’d never seen the name spelled with a K instead of a C. I mentally filed it away and later used it for a supporting character in my as-yet-unpublished children’s book, Too Many Kitties.

The super-secret book I’m working on now (its code name is DFC) will be geared for teen girls. I always knew that my protagonist would be named Keri Hansen. Why? Absolutely no reason, other than it popped, crystal clear, into my head, along with an image of what the character looked like. With the book’s other characters, I envisioned what the looked like, imagined their personalities, then made lists of three to five names for each. Then I simply narrowed it down.

Baby name books are also a good source for writers. Or if you’re writing an historical piece, so to the Social Security website to find out what names were popular in the last 100 years, just choose the decade or year that applies to your story.


baby name book


Choosing surnames for my characters is really hard for me. Usually I “cheat” by scanning online news stories and searching for names in both the articles and the people who comment on them. 

It took me awhile, but I compiled a spreadsheet of girls’ and boys’ first names, plus surnames (100 of each!) that I want use in future writing projects. I doubt I’ll ever get to use them all… but you never know!


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