What’s in a (Character) Name? How I Choose ‘Em

name-questionThis week on the Ball we’re talking about how we pick names for our characters. I’ll be honest: sometimes it’s even harder than choosing names for my own kids (and I’ve been known to dig into baby name books for both).

For BEFORE I GO, the name of the main characters Daisy and Jack came pretty easily. Daisy, to me, connotes perkiness, sunshine and flowers — pretty much the antithesis of my main character. And I really liked the dry humor in that. I also had in mind that she got her name because when she was born Daisy Fuentes was a big supermodel and her mom always liked that name. Therefore, essentially, she was named for a supermodel — and seriously? Who can live up to that? It’s a tidbit I never put in the novel, but some background information that amused me. I could just hear Daisy thinking that.

Jack was a no-brainer. I’ve always liked the name, and I think it represents just a good, decent man. That’s who Jack is to me: the consummate good guy.

For Pamela, the “replacement”, I painted her to be “perfect” in Daisy’s eyes. The kind of woman that we all look at and wish we could be more like. And though I typically don’t like to name my characters after people I know or knew in real life, I made an exception here. There was a girl in my elementary school named Pamela. She had shiny brown hair and it was always done up in these beautiful bows and her clothes always matched. To me, she was perfect. And when I was creating Pamela, I just couldn’t get that name out of my mind.

For my new WIP, I chose names for very different reasons, but I guess what I’m trying to say is, there’s always a reason. To me, that’s part of the fun — even if readers don’t know (or care about) the significance of a name, I do, and it adds another layer to the story for me.

Writers, how do you pick your characters’ names? Readers, do you ever wonder about the significance of a name, or like when a name is chosen for a specific, perhaps symbolic reason?

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Colleen Oakley is the author of BEFORE I GO (Simon & Schuster/Gallery, Jan. 2015), a love story. A former editor for Marie Claire and Women's Health & Fitness, she's now an Atlanta-based freelance writer. Find out more at colleenoakley.com.

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This article has 2 Comments

  1. I had a character named Daisy once, too, and for pretty similar reasons. She was a member of a motorcycle gang, very large and muscular and intimidating. She had changed her name before joining the gang, but at one point she’s forced to reveal her birth name, and it’s Daisy. 🙂

    I always go for plausibility. If someone is going under the name they were born with, and we meet the parents, is it plausible that those parents would have chosen that name? If the character made up the name (most of my characters are living under names they chose for themselves), is it plausible that character would have chosen that name?

    For example, I have three siblings whose parents were very religious. We don’t meet the parents (they’re dead), but the three have biblical names: David, Samuel, and Sarah.

  2. I LOVE hearing how other authors come up with character names! There are always little tidbits that never make it into the book…those are my favourites 🙂

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