Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Characters' Names


The first in the Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series.

How important is it to get the right name for one of your characters?

When I first started writing, I usually picked the first names of the good characters from people that I liked, and added a last name that seemed to go with it. Of course, I sometimes did the opposite for the bad characters. Later in my writing career I tried to use names that carried some kind of meaning, at least to me, that the person I'd created had a touch of evil. 

As time went on I began to learn some fairly good rules about names: Don't have characters with names that begin with the same letter and don't use names that rhyme. One of my own rules is don't pick a name that no one can pronounce because that drives me crazy when I'm reading a book and don't really know how to say the character's name. 

As time went on I needed more sources for names.

Of course, nowadays one can go on the Internet and find every kind of ethnic name, first and last, plus popular boy and girl names for any year.  And yes, I've used these sources a few times. However, for me a better way has been to jot down interesting names I see in the newspaper and to save any programs such as from graduations and stage plays. I'll pick a first name from one and a last name from another that seem to fit the character I'm creating. 

My character Deputy Tempe Crabtree's name is one of my great-grandmother's names. I thought it fit the Native American woman I'd conjured in my mind. (And by the way, Tempe is short for Temperance, and is pronounced Tempie.)

First in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series

For my main character in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, Doug Milligan came about because Doug was my favorite cousin's name and I liked the way the name Milligan went with it. 

I'd like to hear from other authors how they choose their character names.



J. L. Greger said...

Why don't you pick names that rhyme? I think that could be funny?

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

If there were a purpose for it, but only for a good reason. Don't want someone to laugh when it isn't appropriate.

Rachel Josh said...
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authorlindathorne said...

Tempe Crabtree is a name I'll never forget. I grew up in Phoenix, AZ and went to college at Arizona State University in the nearby suburb of Tempe, AZ. Her name seems to sound like a name of someone with Indian heritage. The area I lived in had a large Navajo population. I thought it was a good choice. I picked a plain name for my lead character's first name, Judy. It was a name I always liked and I thought it fit for a character pushing 50 years of age in 2005. I can't remember what I originally chose for her last name. I found it in a phone book. I never knew a single person with that last name and it seemed to fit the demographics of my character. Then, before I had a publisher, my husband and I moved to Nashville and almost bought a home from someone with my character's exact same last name. The house, although only a couple of years old, had some serious problems that we kept finding out about. We walked away from the deal and my husband asked me if, after that horrible experience, would I please give my character another last name. I chose Kenagy. He doesn't like it, but it was again a name of no one I ever knew and I thought it was catchy and maybe needed since Judy was such a plain name. Later, I read a couple of Hank Phillippi Ryan's books. She's famous, but I noticed right off that her main character was named Jane Ryland. Plain Jane sounds more plain than my Judy and Jane's last name is fairly plain too, but somehow the name worked for me in the two of her books I read. I definitely agree with not having characters have names that all start with the same letter or sound similar. I remember a few books where this just threw me off. It was too confusing. Good post. I hadn't thought much of character names until I read this.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Thanks for your comments, Linda. Isn't it interesting how we have different reasons for picking characters' names?

authorlindathorne said...

Yes, it is. We all have different motives (just like our characters). Hank's choice of the name, Jane, was something that surprised me, but it still worked out. I grew up with Dick and Jane books and stories in school.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I read Dick and Jane too, eons ago.

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