"What's in a name? that which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet."

Most of you will recognize the words made famous by William Shakespeare. Romeo & Juliet were star-crossed lovers whose families were bitter rivals, their love forbidden. In Act II of Shakespeare's play, Juliet tells Romeo names of things do not matter--only what they are. She professes it is the Montague person she loves, not the name.

Choosing a character's name for a story is crucial. Try to choose names that are unique and memorable, but not so much that it sticks out. Not only can a perfect name set the mood of your story, catch your reader's eye and sound terrific rolling off the tongue, but it can also be so out of place it can keep the reader from ever truly connecting with your character. Imagine a hunky, buff hero in a romance novel who is introduced as Mickey. YIKES! Not only will we immediately think of a certain mouse, it may remind them of a child's nickname--not such a good idea for a romance! Better to stick with Michael or Mike.

Feminine names are a little easier to get away with, but you need to beware of obvious taboos. Your serious, professional, business-type heroine steps out of her high-end office in stilettos and a business suit and her assistant says, "Have a nice evening, Candy." (eyebrows raised) Bleh. Again, stick with Candace or change her name to fit her personality. Addison, perhaps?

Use names that belong in the time period you are writing. There are several internet sites that can help find a 17th century name for your Duke or Earl; a rough, sturdy name for a cowboy in the early 1900's; a soft, sensitive name for your belle of the ball on a plantation in the 1800's. Search Social Security's most popular names for the last ten years for your contemporary romance. Does your story have a bit of humor? Try a name that is fun and quirky. And make sure it is easy to pronounce. I've read books where I had no idea how to pronounce a character's name--and I would stumble every time I came to the typed name. Not good. Hermione from the Harry Potter series comes to mind right away. I remember how embarrassed I was to find out I was pronouncing it terribly wrong. Ouch. Nothing worse than having your name mispronounced--even if you are imaginary! There are all sorts of databases to help you name your characters, or will pair a first name with a last. Choose wisely. It can make a huge difference in the relevance of the character. Try them on for size. If it doesn't fit, keep juggling until it does. 

One last tidbit: Names can be subtle clues when they're used as pieces of a puzzle in your story as one of mine is in Fireflies (not yet published) or where it enhances the overall theme of your story. Harry Potter again comes to mind. Have you ever paid attention or researched the names of JK's characters? After stumbling across the name Albus (as in Dumbledore) in a gardening book while planting roses one summer, it peaked my curiosity. Check back next week where I'll let you in on a few ingenious things I discovered. I think you'll get a kick out of what I found. Oh, and FYI--you'll have to wait to find out what piece of the puzzle my character's name reveals.

Oh...and BTW--aren't you glad roses are called roses, and not sulfur, or skunk? I know I am! The connotation alone... 

Does your name fit your personality? Did you ever want to change it? If you did, what one did you choose and why? I'm anxious to hear about it. 


02/13/2013 12:02am

My characters tend to spring forth, fully named. If an editor ever asks me to change one of my h/h names, I'll probably do it but it'll be tough.

I hear you, though. I had a judge comment on an entry once that "Kenny" isn't a very heroic name. Well, now that you point it out ... I just can't picture him as a "Ken," though.


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