What’s in a Name?

Last week I realized some of the names I’ve picked for my characters aren’t correct for the time period (1800’s) of my historical fiction. So, I’ve had to do some rethinking and lots of research to fix my earlier mistakes.

This got me to thinking…

How do you pick your character’s names? Do you look for the origin of the name? Do you search for deeper meanings of the name to match your character’s attributes?


13 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?

  1. Hey there

    I’ve compiled a list of names and also have a very, very handy book called ‘The Writers Digest Character Naming Sourcebook’ which has names from different cultures and times and meanings too. I try my best not to pick names that have a very specific meaning unless I have a good reason for it – just something that suits a character. For example, an Albert is likely to make me think of an old white haired man, a Katherine makes me think of a very proper, well suited woman. Different names seem to have different connotations that don’t necessarily derive from their meaning. Picking a name with a very specific meaning that ends up relating to the character is quite rare in real life, because when you name someone, they’re just a baby, so unless I have a good reason for it I try to avoid. Although having a name that fits well with society at the time is definitely important, unless, of course and again, there’s a good reason – e.g. rebellious parents!

    Nice question, sorry for the long essay!

    ~ JLT

    • J,

      Wow does that book sound like a great resource! I’m going to need to check it out before I write my next book because what I’ve got going on now is bordering on the ridiculous. Oh wait, it’s long past ridiculous!

      Also, my female lead charater’s name is Katherine 🙂 Christi

  2. I have to say that I don’t usually ponder over character names for too long. I do care….but I just follow my instinct and if the name is comfortably fitting than I just go with it. I do tend to use more traditional names for most characters though. No Shakiara, Moorley, shakalulu, etc. Aiken is probably the weirdest, but in my opinion nicest name, I’ve come up with. I found it fitting for a supernatural being.

  3. The character in my newest release actually has some Latin meaning behind it, while my other characters’ names come with their characteristics. I’ve only been stumped once or twice on names, and they’re usually secondary characters.

    I’d love to Writers Digest book JLT mentioned. Sounds like a great resource!

    • Both the characters I had to rename were secondary characters. I really thought out the names for my lead ones 🙂

      Thanks for visiting,


  4. Choosing names for my characters is (one of) the bane(s) of my existence. I hate it. I always feel like the name I chose is either too boring, or overly “unique”. In the end I tend to choose names of people I know in real life, or I use their names but change them slightly. For instance, the main character in one of my stories is Tori, which is a shortened version of Toreshi, which is my name in Japanese (and my username for many things). Another character in the same story is Jacen, which comes from my husband Jason.

    For my zombie novel I went a little silly. My name character is Nancy King (for Stephen King), her friend is Terri-Lynn Romero (George Romero), and several of the other character’s names are chosen based on various horror novelists/directors/etc. I was just having fun, but I think most of the names are going to end up sticking. 🙂

    • Tracey,

      I love hearing all the reasons and meanings behind the names you’ve chosen. It’s such an interesting process, and I find it to be much more fun if the names mean something and aren’t just picked out of a hat, or by thrusting a finger onto a random page in a book of baby names.

      Thanks for visiting!


  5. Hi Christi!

    I wondered how characters got their names every time I picked up a new book to read. When I started to write myself, I thought, “OK, now I get to pick names I like.” Wrong. While I might have picked names in the beginning, the characters would then tell me who they were, That said, I then do research on the name and time period to see how it fits. If it doesn’t, I have to break the news to the character whose name I have to change.

    • Karen,

      I’ve had to break the news to two characters this week that there names were changing, and now I think a horse is about to receive similiar news. Hopefully the horse handles it well 🙂


  6. Hi Christi,
    Sorry to hear about the name trouble.
    I have several name books I use. All have the name origin, some give the meaning of the name and some give suggested character traits.
    I keep two lists of names on my computer: one for first names and the other for surnames. Some are from the books, some from names I hear on TV, the radio, or read in the news or books. Sometimes I just brainstorm until I come up with a name that sounds good to me for the character. So far I haven’t had the constraints of a historical context.
    You can borrow my books if you need to.

    • I’d love to take a look at those books. Let me work on the stack of six I’ve got of yours right now *glances over to dresser and wishes for more time in the day* and then I’m thinking maybe around the end of June I could take a look at the name ones?

      The outdoor cooking one was very helpful, and confirmed what I have my male lead eating for survival–dandelion greens–is a good way to get vitamins.

      Thanks again!


  7. Hello Christi … I am finally back after four days of computer virus “stuff” … I get my names from phone books, google sir names or first names of a particular nationality or culture … or reseach a particular group or time frame and then find books, songs, names and the rest from there as well. Google the time frame or dominant nationality of the characters and see what you come up with 🙂 Have fun and you’ll find the perfect names 🙂

    • Florence,

      So glad to hear you’re back and the computer virus is done with. Yikes!

      Those are great ideas for names. I’ve found yet another one that needs a new one. I named one of the maids “Sandy” which is more of a 1950’s name as opposed to an early 1800’s one 🙂


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