As a published author I get a lot of questions from friends and readers about what it’s like to write a book and how to get published. One of my favorite things to talk about is where I get ideas and how I decide what kind of characters to write about.
So many times a character comes to me fully formed. They just show up in my head one day, totally unexpected, and start to share tidbits of their story. That’s the best way to come up with an idea because usually when a character shows up like that, they’ve already got a backstory and I don’t have to do a ton of brainstorming to figure out their goals.
Other times I get a hint of an idea from something I see on TV or an article I come across online. Then I have to figure out where to go from there. If it’s a potential character, I have to decide what their story will entail. If it’s a setting that’s inspiring, I need to determine what kind of characters would be best suited for that time and place.
No matter how a character ends up in one of my stories, they always need a name. Every so often they come with a first name, but more often than not I have to figure out what to call them. From talking with other authors, I think most of us go about it in a variety of ways. Here are a few of my methods:
Look at the most popular names during the time frame and location where the story will be set. If I’m writing a romance set in Texas and my heroine is going to be thirty years old I might do a search for popular names for girls born in Texas in 1990. According to ssa.gov, I’d be looking at Ashley, Jessica, Amanda, Brittany or Stephanie.
If I want to be more unique, I might check one of my favorite baby naming websites, Nameberry.com for their list of unique baby names to see if any of their suggestions fit. Based on today’s search, the top five girls’ names would be Paityn, Evalyn, Luz, Nathalia or Winnie.
Most of the time I’m not content to leave my search to just looking for popular names. I’m not sure if it’s a distraction technique I employ so I can put off writing words or if I just like to be different, but sometimes I’ll try to look for something deeper when it comes to naming my characters. For example, in my most recent release, All I Wanna Do Is You, the heroine is the daughter of a conservative senator. In order to find Reagan’s name, I did a search for all of the past Republican presidents. Her parents named her Reagan after Ronald Reagan and named her brother Theodore (Teddy) after Theodore Roosevelt, two famous Republican politicians.
And sometimes I like to go even deeper when it comes to naming my peeps. In my book Betting On the Bad Boy (currently serialized on Radish) my hero’s name is Dante and the heroine is named Faith. She’s an adjunct English professor so she assumes he’s named after Dante Alighieri, the poet who wrote “The Inferno.” I decided to let my fictional Dante’s story loosely follow the poet’s journey through the rings of hell. And Faith is aptly named since her mother is a Christian inspirational author and her stepfather is a televangelist.
The meaning or symbolism behind the name comes into play quite often when I’m looking for the perfect name. The heroine of Mud Pies & Family Ties had to be a Harmony. She’s a peacemaker and likes to make sure everyone and everything is in alignment so calling her Harmony seemed like a natural fit.
For the Holiday, Texas series, I went in the opposite direction and decided to name my heroine and her brother’s after famous country-western musicians. I had a blast coming up with names for Charlie/Charlotte (Charlie Daniels Band), Cash (Johnny Cash), Statler (the Statler Brothers), Waylon (Waylon Jennings band), Strait (George Strait), and Presley (yes, Elvis Presley has country-western roots!)
So how about you? How do you come up with names when it’s time to name your pets, your kids, or your characters?