Writing Tip: Save Your Character Names

What’s in a name? A lot, actually.

All writers want their characters to stand out from the rest; names are important, not just to define your characters, but to engage the reader. Names mean a lot to writers, as we grow attached and know everything about them, even if only a few details make it in the actual books.

For example, did you notice my main character, Lucy, complements her father’s name, Lenny? It was Lucy’s mother’s suggestion after she gave birth.

I bet you didn’t know that the name Keegan is Gaelic for “Fire” and his name was the first I picked after Lucy’s. Gabriel’s name also came to me pretty quick, my gifted spin on a fallen angel trying to work his way back into good graces. Coincidentally Gabriel hates his last name – Knight – because he hates what it could imply (a reluctant hero move?).

Sheffield Donovan…Delia Stavros…Brooklyn…Bianca…Nikolas…Finley. I like to think you don’t meet too many of these names in your lifetime. Hopefully that means when a reader sees these names, they’ll remember them, be able to at least associate and discern your characters – and eventually their voices. With each character name comes a personality and I’m excited for readers to learn more in the second Donovan Circus book about who these names are.

I’m so close to finishing my first draft that I can almost taste it. Naturally, this means I’ll use any excuse to procrastinate, which includes a determined search for another desk lamp in the house since mine’s busted. I rooted around in the attic some  and was surprised to find a notebook I’d been using for GIFTED when I first began tinkering with the idea back in Nashville, long before any first draft. No desk lamp, but what I found inside that notebook was pure gold: Character Names.

A two column list of names were scribbled on that page and I could’ve kicked myself for not finding it sooner. I’d forgotten all about it and have managed to come up with plenty of other names without it, but all the same, I was elated to remember several names I’d long forgotten. There were also names of characters in the story that I wrote in, then edited out when I had to cut scenes from the fourth draft of GIFTED.

I mean, how great is the name Viviana for a circus acrobat/contortionist?

When you think of a name, write it down. Paper is fine (I keep different journals for each project), but I always recommend several places, including online. Keep a nice Excel file (or whatever program works for you) of not just characters and their traits, characteristics, gifts, etc., but also a list of names you like that could be used for your stories. It’s so easy to name characters when you have a list at the ready.

Upload that file to Google docs where you can access it anytime, especially if you happened to lose work. Or Dropbox or whatever system is best for you. Whether you’re creating names within that particular world or you just jot down names you happen to come across and would like to consider, it’s a great way to have a list ready when the need strikes. You can always change it later if it doesn’t fit, but when you have a great name, write it down.

You know how we are – saying “I don’t need to write that down” is a curse on ourselves. Three days and maybe a few drinks later, you’re sitting there, straining every brain cell to remember that awesome name you came up with. Write that ish down, yo!

Now, give me some good name tips. Besides Googling “baby names”, how else do you find name inspiration? Or do you come up with a character and let the name come to you? What are some of the favorite character names you’ve come across?

5 thoughts on “Writing Tip: Save Your Character Names

  1. Suzy Turner says:

    I sometimes use google baby names, but otherwise they just come to me – on TV (do you ever read the credits? I do that a lot!), magazines, people in the street, sometimes I just make them up! But I usually write them down. The same with street names – I love reading street names!

    • LizLong says:

      I love the idea of checking the credits! That’s a great new way to find names – I love checking street names too. About 3 streets down from me is a “Sheffield Dr” and that makes me so happy to have my ringmaster nearby! 😉

  2. J. Dominique says:

    Lots of times I just come up with the name myself. In the story I’m currently writing, each “Name” has a meaning in the magical language. I like doing stuff like that in my books.

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