October 22, 2012

A rose is a rose by any other name…..

By Callie Hutton

How do you pick the names of your characters?

Do you wait until you’ve formed the character either in your mind, or on paper before you give him or her a name? Although I’ve never waited to name a character, more than once I started off with one name, and then as the story progressed, it became evident that this was no Elizabeth. More of a Delilah.

Since I’m a panster, changing a name mid-way through the story is not so unusual for me. A regency I completed a few months ago, and is now in the hands of several publishers awaiting the dreaded decision, I changed the heroine’s name three times. And ended up with the name I started with – Olivia.

Recently I decided to use my daughter and nieces names in my books. For the married ones, as long as I don’t use their husbands’ names for the hero, I can write the love scenes without a problem. What is a problem, however, is my nieces, for the most part have ‘modern’ names. Tracey, Stacy, Kim, Dawne, and so forth. Since I write primarily historical, it becomes a challenge.

In a contemporary I wrote recently, I knocked out two nieces by using them for first and last names. Kerry Mackenzie. It’s rather cool that Mackenzie (in real life) is Kerry’s daughter.

I keep a rather extensive list of names I hear that seem different, or unusual. Most times I have the names of my hero and heroine before I start the book. It’s searching for the secondary characters in the story that drives me to the list.

Butlers’ names are fun. There aren’t a whole lot of John or Jim in regency butlers. They have unusual names, like Bonwich or Pembers. I’ve often wondered, is that their first, last, or butler name?

Some characters’ names become so entrenched with their authors, their names are almost synonymous. Who can think of Margaret Mitchell and not conjure up Scarlett O’Hara? How about J. Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes? Or Agatha Christie and Miss Marple? Or in a more modern vein, James Patterson and Alex Cross? Janet Evonovich and Stephanie Plum? J. K. Rowling and Harry Potter? E L James and Christine Grey?

We would probably all love to be so connected to one of our characters.  The notoriety alone would sell books.

In my book that my publisher just released, A Prescription for Love, naming the characters was easy, since it’s the third book in a series. The hero’s name was already set, from the first two stories, but I had to find a character name for the heroine that fit her personality. Heidi just seemed to call to me. I lucked out when one of my critique partners questioned if that name would be used during that time. When I researched the book Heidi, I found out it was published right around the time my character would have been born. Whew!

So tell me how naming characters works for you. Easy? Hard? Do you change names as the character grows, or do you have it all plotted out before you start, so changing anything would unnerve you?


Callie has been making up stories since elementary school, and writing gave her a way to turn off the voices in her head.  She’s had a number of articles and interviews published over the years, and about two years ago, decided to put her writing skills to the test and write a book.

            Oklahoma is where she hangs her hat with her husband of thirty-six years, two young adult children, and three dogs.

You can catch her hanging out at Facebook, Twitter- @CallieHutton, and her home base, www.calliehutton.com. Stop by sometime and say hello.

Books by Callie Hutton:

Oklahoma Lovers series, #1, #2, #3

An Angel in the Mail

Tessa’s Treasures

Miss Merry’s Christmas, October 31st

Daniel’s Desire, November 19th

All of Callie Hutton’s books can be found at www.Amazon.com and www.BarnesandNoble.com.


Cait OSullivan said...

Nice to hear what you do for character's names. I struggle with them and in fact start a book with similar sounding names because I get stuck on a certain letter. eg I'll have a Mark, Maggie and a Marcus and not even realise until some time later. So my character's name hop about a lot but once I've decided I wonder why it took me so long!!

RT Wolfe said...

Lovely post, Callie!
I think a character’s name needs to tie in with the era. Drake was once considered a strong name for a dominant suspense character, but now there is Drake the rapper. That changes everything. The name needs to fit the personality of the character without being so obvious readers will roll their eyes.
R.T. Wolfe

Rebecca Heflin said...

Great post, Callie. I love naming my characters. I guess its because I don't have children or pets, so I finally get to name something. In my first book, I used ancestors' names, even though it was a contemporary novel. The heroine in my latest release took some time to name. I developed her character first and decided to give her a name that was the antithesis of that character. She's brash, tough as nails, and athletic, so I named her Lacey Sommers, something soft and frilly.

Cynthia said...

When I start typing my story, a name usually pops into my head and I just go with it. Sometimes I have to change it if it doesn't seem to fit later on, but mostly it's gut. Other lesser characters I sometimes go to lists of boys and girls names and go until something hits me right. Unfortunately, I have to wade through the current hot names because I refuse to name a character anything like Nala or Edana. Sheesh. Keeping a list of good names is a good idea though.

Gerri Brousseau said...

I enjoyed your post, Callie. I feel that the character name must fit the character as well as the era. My hero needs a strong name and the secondary characters, if quirky, need quirky names. In A Pirate's Ransom, my hero is Pirate Captain Edmund Drake and his quirky quartermaster is Tobias Smith. My process is that I think about my characters and their names just sort of come to me. I have yet taken to keeping a list, but it may soon come to that.

Jessica Subject said...

For my characters, the name usually comes first. Though, I have had to change names because I've used it before in another story, or I have too many names that start with the same letter. For men, I prefer names that start with J, and for women, those that start with K or hard C. But now I have a list of those I've already used in each story, so I look for something different when starting a new story. I've been known to search my baby name books, online, and in phone books for a character's name.

Callie said...

Hi Ladies, and thanks to all of you for stopping by. I appreciate all the stories you shared about how you name your characters. Fun to see how everyone does it.

Calisa Rhose said...

Love PFL, Callie. My characters tell me their names...usually. You probably remember very recently the synopsis I sent to the group. All places where hero's name should be were XXs. He finally gave me a name but he doesn't seem very sure, so that may change somewhere along the line. Some do, some come to me fully formed, name intact and ready to be written.

Great post.

Ally Broadfield said...

Fun post! I have to name my characters before I start writing. So far I haven't changed the name of an mc after I've started writing. They usually tell me their names once I have an idea of their personalities.

Callie said...

Thanks for coming by, Ally & Calisa. Some find naming characters easy, others not so much.

Cynthia Gail said...

Great post, Callie.
My current WIP uses my best friend and her husband's first names. I warned her that it could be risky, but she's dying to be in my book.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

I'm not sure how I come up with my h/h's names. One time, I did ask my daughter (about 20 at the time) to give me two names. A get last names for minor characters by looking at who wrote books I have on my shelves, lol. One character I had named after a 'friend', who then backstabbed me, so before I published the book, I changed THAT name, lol. I love learning how other authors work. Thanks for sharing. And, Callie, thanks for being my guest today!

Callie said...

My current WIP that I'm doing for NaNo has my daughter's name as the heroine.

Shay Lacy said...

I keep a big list of names to choose for characters. It usually takes 3 tries before I settle in to my winner. I fear missing a name when I "Find and Replace". Thanks for sharing, Callie!

Suzi said...

Lovely post, ladies.
I use Sherrilyn Kenyon's character naming book and love looking up the history of names.
Suzi Love

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Oh, Shay, your comment reminded me....raise your hand if you have started a new WIP, and then realized you are using the name of the hero/heroine from your last book? I know I have done that at least once. "Wait, this isn't David! This is Michael! Geez!"

B.J. Scott said...

Great post and topic Callie!
Character names come easy for some books and more difficult for others. Because my books so far have been primarily historical romances, research is a huge part. I usually have the names of my main characters planned before I start to write a manuscript, but on occassion it takes a few chapters before the names finally sink in for the secondary characters. Once done, I usually stick with them ;)I agree some of the other comments that a name needs to be suitable to the era and the topic. A Scot named Pierre or a cowboy named Alasdair don't work lol

Good luck with your books.

Janna Shay said...

Great post, Callie. I also often change the names of my heroes and heroines a few times before I find the ones that fit the characters. A character's name has to match their personality or it doesn't work for me.