What’s in a Name?

One of my favorite parts of starting a new project is naming my characters. You’d think I’d have gotten enough of that with five kids, but I found naming my children to be a bit more excruciating. Because of course I was full of great ideas and my husband nixed them all. We didn’t set out to name all four sons with names beginning with J…they were the only ones we could agree on!

So I take my time when it comes to hanging a name on my hero and heroine. It has to fit, exactly. Not just the mental image I have in my mind of the character, but their personality. And I can get ideas for names from all sorts of places. I’ve been known to scour football rosters for new cool names for my heroes.

Male names that end in a hard sound, like T or K sound more alpha…Luke, Cort, Jake. If I choose a first name that ends in a soft sound, I’ll deliberately choose a last name that has a hard sound in it…for example, Dace Recker, one of my SWAT heroes. I loved that name and actually lifted Dace from a football roster. A reader mentioned that he sounded like a male stripper :).  I suppose the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive!

When it comes to naming the heroine, I spend a lot of time thinking about her traits and attitude. Sophie brings to mind a completely different sort of woman than Ramsey does. Ramsey is a female warrior; Sophie is softer, more feminine.  Sometimes I choose a name based on the nickname I like.  We settled on Alison for our daughter mainly because I wanted to call her Ali.

There are names that no teacher in his/her right mind would ever choose for their child because a it belonged to a…AHEM…unforgettable student.  Certain names appear much more frequently on the class list in behavior classrooms, believe it or not.  It’s as if the name itself preordains the child’s school success!

I love the names my kids have come up so far for *their* kids.  So far we have a Rylan, Kasen, Keaden, Kinley and Harper :).   And they haven’t even needed Gamma’s help!

How did you come up with your kids’ names? Are there names that have negative connotations for you?  Any character names that just didn’t fit the story people you were reading about?

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23 Responses to What’s in a Name?

  1. Leanne Banks says:

    Interesting blog, Kylie! I prefer very masculine-sounding names for my heroes. I love giving my heroine names I wouldn’t have been allowed to give my own children.lol Named one Valentina, but hey she was a princess, and most people called her Tina.:) I get into trouble sometimes when I’ve named secondary characters and they end up getting their own story. Also have a hard time coming up with secondary character names at times and then if I’m not careful, I forget them later in the book!!!
    When we named our children, we didn’t start out planning to give them names starting with the same letter, but we gave them each middle names of relatives.
    Would love to know some of those names common in behavior classes!lol

    • kylie brant says:

      Yes on the secondary characters, Leanne! I just give them names sort of off the cuff and then later on in the story can’t remember their names or the spelling, LOL.

      As for the behavior names–why why why would anyone name their kid Damien???? Isn’t that typecasting?

  2. You make good points. Naming your characters might also be part of your “branding” as a writer and definitely influenced by the time period or genre you are writing about, but do you think sometimes a contrast between the name and the character might be fun? Could the name increase the contrast of the character arc? I like the way some writers will have the hero call the heroine by a different version of her name as an indication of how he sees her. The Seminole Indians would give visiting anthropolgists alias names because their true names were secret, powerful. There is a lot of mythology associated with names; legends and fairy tales involved names like Rumplestiltskin.

    • kylie brant says:

      Julie, very intriguing! Jayne Anne Krentz gives her heroines very old fashioned stuffy sounding names which contrast with the way the reader ‘sees’ them. I also like it when a hero gives the heroine a nickname that no one else calls her…it’s intimate and allows the reader a deeper understanding of how he sees her.

  3. Cindy Gerard says:

    I think you’ve nailed the methodology for hero names, Kylie. Hard vowels, alpha male. love it.
    With me, it’s kind of an intuitive thing … I wish I could say i give it a lot of thought but I don’t. A character comes to mind for me and generally he or she walks onto the page with a name already in place. Not sure why. But, hey, I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. LOL.

    • kylie brant says:

      Yeah, I sort of have a short list of names and pluck out the one that fits that hero. Last names take me more time, though. When it comes to secondary characters, I give their names very little thought and often change them over the course of the story.

  4. michelehauf says:

    I love picking character names, but it’s also one of the harder jobs as a writer. It has to be perfect. I tend to like the long, aristocratic sounding names for my heroes: Alexandre, Christian, Sebastian, Creedence. Heroines are the toughest. Actually trying to think of one right now, and I feel like I’ve exhausted my supply of ‘pretty’ names. Love colors: Scarlet, Blu, Magenta. I love Sunday as a girl’s name.
    My own kids, I named Ashley after the soap opera character (early 80s; forget the show. Young and Restless? Heck, back then, Ashley was unique!) and Jesse I just like the sound of it.
    What about villains? I’ve learned, over the years, not to name my villains too oddly, because someday I might want to make them a hero. Severo, anyone? He was once a villain and then a hero, but he’ll never forgive me for that name.

    • kylie brant says:

      Michele, Severo–I love it! And your names fit perfectly with the genre you write. Strong and yet sort of mystical. I like Magenta too…I think you should go for it!

  5. Naming kids was soooo hard. Both my husband and I had generations long naming traditions in our families. I also had the added challenge of having all of my mother’s family in Spanish speaking countries (Argentina and Spain) so I had to like the name in English and Spanish which is harder than you might think. Hubby also hated all and I am quoting here, “sissy 90210” names like Dylan, Brandon, etc. and flat out refused on “ees” LIke Ashley, Brittany, etc.

    My son is a John David which satisfied naming traditions on both sides and he goes by Johnny for now. I was annoyed immediately after his birth when people would ask his name then be disappointed when I told them what it was. One person actually asked me if we named him that because we “couldn’t think of a good one.”

    My little girl is Reagan Elizabeth. I named her after the president and my great grandmother. I figured that it was different but had historical relevance so if people asked how it was spelled, in lieue of Regan,Raegin, etc. I could say “like the President”. It amazes me how many people either can’t spell or weren’t alive or aware of the 80s because when I give that answer, I get a lot of blank stares. LOL

    • kylie brant says:

      Grace I named my boys names that couldn’t be shortened (I thought!) and my daughter a name that could be. Love Reagan…and once named a heroine Grace because I wanted the hero to call her Gracie 🙂 That probably makes you cringe, LOL.

      We named our third son Jordan, which I still think is such a great name. His brothers immediately dubbed him Jorge and have called him that ever since, sigh. Best laid plans!

  6. Helen Brenna says:

    I love naming characters and it’s as important to me as it sounds like it is to you, Kylie. When we named out kids, we wanted names that were a little bit different, but not weird. I’d never heard the name Kelsey until the week AFTER I came home from the hospital with my newborn daughter twenty-two plus years ago, and then it seemed like it was everywhere! Dylan was the only boy’s name my dh and I could agree on. Still love both those names which, I guess, is the best test!

    • kylie brant says:

      Helen, my parents were waaaay ahead of the curve. My sister Kelcie is 52 🙂 She was the only one in her class back then. I have a nephew Dylan. Still like that name, too.

  7. Kathleen O says:

    Since I didn’t have any kids… But if did they would have ended up with very celtic names or gaelic names, Were boys they would have been Riley, Sean, or Noel, somthing like that. But I aslo like the name Cord or Cody for a boy…

  8. We named our kids using the process of eilimination. We agreed that we wanted strong names that would serve well from birth to 100+. Clyde did not want a junior. He said one Clyde int he family was plenty. I’ve always liked the name David, and I don’t associate the name with anyone, so David was tested out for weeks, saying it back and forth to make sure we both liked the way it sounded with Eagle, and then with Clyde’s middle name–Spencer. No nicknames.

    We both liked Elizabeth for a girl, so when the first was a boy, we had Elizabeth in reserve and decided with the second pregnancy that we liked Marie for the middle name. My mother was Mary, I’m Mary Kathleen, and Clyde’s grandmother was Marie. Her brother gave her a nickname when she was little–Buffy, for Buffy St. Marie, who was on Sesame Street at the time–but she only allows people who knew her then to call her that. She is Elizabeth.

    The third time around was tough. Daniel–my father and brother’s middle name–would be the middle name for a boy, but we couldn’t agree on a first name. Christopher was the only name neither of us rejected. We didn’t really agree on a girl’s name, and in those days gender was a birth day surprise. So i don’t know what we would have done.

    It’s fun to be able to name characters and use all those names you tossed around for your kids. The name has to be right for the character. I’ve started out with names that I ended up changing because they just didn’t work. Once I had the right name, the charater was more cooperative. There’s often a story behind the name. I like that.

  9. bkrahn007 says:

    GREAT BLOG, Kylie! I’m probably the queen of weird names for kids. . . much to my mother’s chagrin. She was a first Grade teacher for 30+ years and had firm notions about all kinds of names for kids. I ended up with two names she’d never have thought of. . . Nathan and Zebulun. Yeah, I know. But they grew up big and strong and very few people teased them.

    Yes, I love those Alpha guys and their tough sounding names. I just happen to write more Beta guys. . . or so I’ve always thought. In a brief inventory, I realized I’ve kind-of covered the block.
    Alphas: Saxxe, Nick Stack, Colt, Rugar, Connor, Raider, and good old Jack.
    Alpha-Minuses: Griffin, Hugh, Jorund, Titus, Thorne, Apollo, and good old Max.
    Beta Boys (My personal favorites): Sterling Renville, Hugh of Sennett, Hartford Goodnight, Remington Carr, Garner Townsend, and (oddly enough) Gentleman Jack Huntington.

    My current contemporary hero is named “Finn.” (He loves fishing and I love Glee. Sue me.) He’s a weird combination of Alpha and Beta. . . a real outdoorsy guy, a major hunting/fishing dude. . . who volunteers with breast cancer survivors and whose hugs are therapeutic gold. Finn Hartley. Does that sound too wimpy?

    • Kylie Brant says:

      Ah but Betina, see how you got the hard sound in Finn’s last name? It balances it out perfectly. I love the name Finn…definitely a name that my dh would have nixed! That’s what I enjoy the most about naming characters…absolute control over the decisions!

  10. debradixon says:

    My husband used to roll his eyes at the “hero names” in romance books, but the reality was that for me a name is really important! It’s hard to make me warm up to a Harvey or a Leslie. The name has to be strong or the author is going to have to work extra hard. I don’t mind the unusual in names.

    And I love names that make great nicknames.

    • Kylie Brant says:

      Yup, Deb, it’s all about the nicknames, whether we want there to be one or not! My dad was one to hang nicknames on his girls. I was Kimber-Chick (truly wince worthy but as long as no one else called me that it was fine) but my sister was Muggins 🙂 My mom had a fit and finally they had a dog he could give that name to so thankfully she wasn’t stuck with it forever.

  11. lois greiman says:

    Names are so hard. I often have to ‘live’ with my characters for a draft or two to figure them out enough to give them the names they’ll wear forever.

  12. Kylie Brant says:

    Lois, and I’m just so impressed that you actually have *drafts* of your books. Because it tells me you’re not one to, oh let’s just say stay up all night to finish the last fifty pages of a book that’s due the next morning!

    Not that I know anyone like that, LOL!

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