Friday, October 9, 2015

N is for Names

Margaret talks about naming characters.

Names define character. Strong names for strong people. If a heroine or hero had a weak name we wouldn’t be able to believe in them. Characters in romance novels are no ordinary people. Heroes especially are strong, they haven’t been given their name without considerable thought.

When I first started writing I kept a notebook in which I jotted down Christian names from newspapers or magazines. Names do change, though, over the years and ones I used then I wouldn't dream of using now. On my bookshelf is a copy of The Guinness Book of Names by Leslie Dunkling published in 1974 which I used to use frequently. It’s very dated but in it there’s an interesting poem by Charles Lamb, first published in 1809. He put himself in the place of a little girl who had been offered the chance to choose a name for her sister.

Now I wonder what would please her,
Charlotte, Julia or Louisa?
Ann and Mary, they’re too common;
Joan’s too formal for a woman:
Jane’s a prettier name beside;
But we had a Jane that died.
They would say, if ‘twas Rebecca,
That she was a little Quaker,
Edith’s pretty but that looks
Better in old English books.
Ellen’s left off long ago:
Blanch is out of fashion now.
None that I have named as yet
Are so good as Margaret.
Emily is neat and fine,
What do you think of Caroline?

How I’m puzzled and perplexed
What to choose or think of next!
I am in a little fever
Lest the name that I shall give her
Should disgrace her or defame her.
I will leave Papa to name her.




  1. I love that poem, because it perfectly captures the dilemma we face as writers, and as parents, when naming characters or children. I often use baby naming sites on the web to find names that sound good, fit the time period and have meanings that work for me.

    1. What would we do without the internet? There's not much you cannot look up. Having said that there's something to be said for reference books.

  2. Love the poem. Most times the names of my main characters arrive in my mind as soon as I start thinking about the story. I usually have more problems naming my secondary characters, and also deciding on surnames. Of course, we always have to remember not all readers will like the names of our characters. I'm reading one at present where the hero is Gavin (or Gav) - which is not a name I would ever choose for a hero!

    1. Nor me, Paula. I rarely have names arriving in my mind. They either reveal themselves to me while I'm plotting, or I have to physically look them up and decide which will suit my character.

  3. Character named come to me when I am working on their profile sheets. The more qualities I determine, the more the character comes to life--and tells me his or her name.

    1. Interesting, Anna. It never happens to me, I like to have names before I even think about the story.

  4. Names certainly do come in and out of vogue.

    I usually have one character's name fro the get go when writing. Then I try to find a 'match' for them.

    I've also learned the importance of naming secondary characters...even 'throwaway' ones, as you never know when they'll get a story of their own.

    1. That's very true, Debra. I have an idea in the back of my mind for a story for one of my secondary characters from an earlier book.

  5. Hi Margaret, Love the poem! I can't start writing until I have selected the names of my protagonist and love interest. I agree with Debra that we also need to pay attention to the names of secondary characters. This is especially true if we plan to write a series. Once that first book is out, character names are carved in stone. Joanne :)

  6. Absolutely, Joanne. I didn't think of writing the story of secondary characters in one of my books until someone suggested it. Fortunately they have good hero/heroine names. So one day...