Choosing Character Names by Mae Clair

Naming characters is a topic that gets a lot of attention. It’s been blogged about many times. I’m sure I’ve written posts in the past, too. Okay, I know I’ve written posts, but let’s face it—we love our characters and we love talking about them.

Last week, I started a new short story for a future writing project. As usual, when I begin something new, I start by creating characters and deciding on names. Plot comes later.  In this case, the two leads are brothers Conner and Dorian Ash. Yeah, I know…there I go with that family thing again, but I can’t help myself. I like the dynamics of family relationships.

Anyway, after selecting the names, I realized my attachment to the hard “c” sound. It continues to creep up over and over in my character names. Take a look at the evidence:

Young woman looking up and thinking with thought bubbles above her head. Bubbles contain character names that start with the letter C

  • My lead in Weathering Rock is Caleb DeCardian
  • Twelfth Sun has Reagan Cassidy
  • Eclipse Lake, Dane, Jesse, and Jonah Carlisle 
  • Solstice Island, Riley Carswell 
  • Myth and Magic, Caith Breckwood
  • A Thousand Yesteryears, Caden Flynn
  • I’ve even got a trunk novel called The River’s Secret I’ve considered polishing up, in which the lead is Chris Carrister

Seriously. What’s up with me and the “c” sound? Looking back on it, Food for Poe is the only story I’ve written in which the main characters escaped my obsession.

I don’t think I intentionally zero in on the letter C. I collect names (male, female and last) and keep them in an app on my iPhone. Whenever I need one, I hop over to see what I’ve got saved.

I also use online baby naming sites, which I think is pretty common for most authors. In the old days, I used to flop open a phone book, but they’ve become dinosaurs.

How do you choose names, and do you have any ongoing preferences? Is there a particular letter that continually crops up among your character names, or am I the only one who unconsciously gravitates to a certain sound and/or letter?

44 thoughts on “Choosing Character Names by Mae Clair

  1. Lovely post. Funny about that ‘C’ sound claiming pride of place. One thing I do when selecting a name for historical stuff is take a stroll around a churchyard. I study the gravestones and see if I can find something with the the right hum for the era I’m working in. I found William Reliance Smith that way. I fell in love with the name and he became my ghostly hero in Your Heart My Soul. I often make names up, like Thabit in Marked for Magic, I later discovered the name existed but it fell right for the character as it means ‘cool thinker’ in Arabic. One of the things I enjoy is discovering names for characters. Thanks for making me think about that this morning.

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    • Funny you should mention churchyards, Daisy. I love exploring old cemeteries and looking at the dates and names on the headstones…imagining the lives that were led. And what a great resource for historicals. I love the name Willianm Reliance Smith!

      I’ve made a few names up, too….mostly for my fantasy novels, which are languishing buried away, after years of neglect. Isn’t it interesting how many things play into the name of a single character?

      Thanks for commenting!

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  2. That’s too funny! I don’t think I’ve ever done a survey, but now I might. I’ve actually chosen a couple names from my family tree — way way back — although one of them had his scenes left on the cutting room floor. LOL Right now I’m trying to decide if I’ve chosen the right names for a couple of secondary characters, because they may end up starring in a future story of their own. (Not that I’ve planned it, but they get so insistent sometimes.) So I have to make sure their names sound would work for a hero and heroine, not the sidekicks. 🙂

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  3. I also keep a list of character names on my iPhone. Sometimes a name will come to me and I’ll put it down for future reference. I also check baby name sights and look for popular names dependent upon my character’s age.

    I don’t think I’m attached to one particular letter, but in my WIP I had a Stephanie (protagonist), Scott (male lead), Sylvia, and Sophie. So maybe I do have a thing with S names. I changed all but one character name and it seems to work a lot better.

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    • Yay! Another iPhone name collector. Isn’t it so convenient, whenever a name strikes you?

      I’ve also done the same thing with having several names in a story begin with the same letter and then realized I was overdoing it. Maybe you do have an attachment to the letter S 🙂

      I’m not sure if you’ve ever read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but Tolkien names his evil Dark Lord Sauron and his Evil Wizard Saruman. When I read that back in high school, it took me a while to sort out who was who!

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      • Yes, they are easily confused. At least he didn’t name any of the good guys with “S” names. Except of course, Aragorn was also known as Strider. Loved LOTR!

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    • I had a light bulb moment when I noticed it. Now I think I’ll be more on the look out for it.

      I remember writing shorts many years ago (even some novels) and being attracted to names that begin with a vowel. I guess the letter “C” has replaced it for me.

      Gina is a great name, and I like the soft “G” sound. If not the name, maybe the letter or the sound, will creep up again in one of yours.

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      • I think Craig is a great name too. I usually look at lists of popular names by year. It’s strange how they evolve over time. Mary was the most popular girl’s name at one time, Lisa and Susan weren’t far behind. I don’t think many babies get those names today.

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      • I think there are always trending names year by year.I knew a lot of Mary’s, Lisa’s and, especially Susan’s growing up.

        It’s weird how names change. For the longest while Olivia wasn’t a popular girl’s name and now I have two nieces with that name and I hear it all over the place. Maybe, eventually, Lisa, Susan and Mary will work their way back!

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  4. Great post! I’ve used baby name apps and sites, mostly when I’m looking for names that mean something in particular or have a heritage I want (Irish or Scottish or German, etc). I try to pick names that someone from that country/heritage would have. For my detective mystery, in which the yakuza played a role, I searched specifically for Japanese names (but none too common). I’m more careful when picking main character names, and I try to stay away from names of people I know (just in case 🙂 ). You have the hard “c”, I think I’m stuck on an ending “a” for my female leads: Alex(andra), Kenna, Sierra. A lot of times I’ll take notes when I hear a cool name, then pick something that has a “mouth feel” that reminds me of the character. Sounds weird, but I’ve never thought too much about it until now. Hmmm. *heads off to find a notebook to add more names*

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    • Good point about the heritage of the character. I’ve got a book of character names divided by nationality and I will use that when I want the connection to ancestry. I think it adds a lot when a writer takes the time to search that out, so kudos to you, especially with the Japanese slant.

      I like your attachment to vowel endings 🙂 Those are all great names. I actually changed my lead character’s name in A THOUSAND YESTERYEARS from Avery to Eve when I realized I had so many names ending in an “ie” sound….Avery, Katie, Maggie, Wendy.

      Well…that and the name Avery probably wasn’t very popular when she was born, LOL!

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  5. Scrivener has a name generator which I found useful for non-American names. I got help from my blogger friends with naming my male protagonist, Richard Noggin, (aka Dick Head) and Brandi was an idea I had. The former mayor was named after an old boyfriend with a little tweak. He always wanted to be mayor and he’s a big exec in Orange County Government.

    In my first book, the character’s names came to me as I wrote. Some were spin offs from their real names. Sybil is really my cousins name and since it was her story, I got permission from her to use her real name.

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    • I’ve had Scrivener for two years now and still haven’t sat down and learned how to use it. I had no idea it had a name generator. I really need to start learning how to use that program.

      And Richard Noggin/Dick Head is hilarious!!!

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      • Gwen Hernandez offers some wonderful hands on online classes for Scrivener. She has a web site and wrote the book, Scrivener for Dummies. It really helped me. She also makes herself available for troubleshooting 🙂

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      • That’s great to know, Susan. I will look up both resources, the book and the website. I’ve been meaning to sit down and learn the program forever! 🙂

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  6. I guess when I have two minutes to call my own I’ll have to see if I have a trend 😉 I also look at baby name books, historical lists for names used in a particular era (Finding names for the knights was an interesting journey) and because I have so many names in my family genealogical database, the list of names and surnames found therein is consulted quite regularly! Fun post Mae!

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    • Interesting that you look back into your family tree, too, Debbie. I never thought of doing that, but it does seem to be a popular way of combing for names (and I know how much you love genealogy).

      I always love the names you choose for your characters. They do fit the eras and times….and also the people. However you’re doing it, keep up the good work! 🙂

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  7. I definitely have trend with my names and C seems to be a favorite of my for heroines. I have to consciously change a character’s name to keep from feeling like I’m repeating myself.
    Despite that, I love naming my characters and using the names I never got to use for my children. 🙂

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  8. An interesting post! Yes, what’s in a name?
    Now that you mention it I realize they all begin with a C. Haven’t noticed. Perhaps, your subconscious linked your name to those of the characters.

    Something I try to avoid in naming my characters is choosing names with the same initial in the same story. If I have, for example, an Angela character, I will not have an Ann or Amy or whatever other name starting with A. And another thing I try to use easily pronounced names. Inventing non-existent names can create issues with the readers. James Scott Bell warns writers against filling their books with “speed bumps” that slow readers down, and I promise you that giving your hero a name that starts with three consecutive consonants is a bump of major proportions. Though I like unusual names in fantasy that I probably wouldn’t read on a nearby mailbox, I think I should be able to say them in my head, without stopping every time.

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    • I sometimes hit those speed bumps when reading fantasy novels. I tend to overlook them because it is fantasy, but some of them can get to be a mouthful!

      I’m also like you and try to watch out for too many characters in the same book having a name begin with the same letter. I don’t worry too much about it if it involves a lead and minor character, but two leads or a lead and secondary character can get cumbersome.

      And yeah….maybe that hard “c” attachment came from “Clair.” 😀

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  9. I usually fall back on two things – in my fiction. Short names – like mine, Diane. and alliteration – something that comes trippingly off the tongue – like Susan Sarandon… oh, that one’s already taken. Drat! 🙂

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  10. Yes. “S” names are always the first to pop into my head. Case in point “Sage” and “Shawnee” and Frankie’s name was originally “Skylar”. It’s crazy! I didn’t even realize I was doing it until my husband pointed it out. I keep a list on my phone, too. Whenever I read a clerk’s nametag or overhear a cool name, I save it. If they only knew they’ve become murder victims. lol

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    • LOL! Phones are so great for collecting names.

      S names seem to be very popular here among writers. And isn’t it interesting how others pick up on our attachments but we don’t. By the way, I love the name Shawnee!

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  11. I sort of roll names around in my head to see what sounds right to me. I did google names for Soul of a Vampire because my vampire was Greek, and I wanted to be sure I picked a good Greek name. But most of the time, it’s just what sounds right.

    So now I need to go back to all my book and see if I have a common letter like you do. 🙂

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    • LOL! It’s weird how those letters crop up without you being aware. Googling is a great idea when it comes to names. As I frequently tell my husband…l.”Google knows everything!” 🙂

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  12. I’ve always loved the name Conor. Coming up with names for characters is always fun.
    I remember writing a novel back in my school days. I had the first names for everyone, but needed surnames. I’d recorded Interview with the Vampire at the time and fast forwarded to the credits, jotting down some of the second names I liked from the crew of that film. 🙂

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