Naming Your Characters
It’s no secret that characters in romance novels tend to have… interesting names.
Barbara Cartland loved to name her characters after members of Greek and Roman mythology and history. She referenced leads in operas, and made a lot of nods to classical literature. Some of the names like Lavinia and Katherine were probably plucked straight from her friends, society girls in the 20’s and 30’s. Barbara Cartland lived quite a life and met millions of people, so she had plenty of inspiration for character names!
Jilly Cooper created a mix of character names, from Helen and Rupert, to Ricky and Daisy, to Rannaldini and Hermione, her books encompassing a range of social strata, professions and locations giving her free rein to pluck names out of the ether as the character required, or so it seemed.
Jackie Collins went for a straightforward approach, likely drawing on all the characters that surrounded her by in Hollywood. Lucky Santangalo and Fontaine Khaled – well they aren’t people you meet on a wet weekend in Brighton, are they?
In my experience, picking a character name can be an important part of writing your book, and your character, and as we know, your characters are essential to drawing in your readers and keeping them turning those pages!
Here are my 5 top tips for choosing a character name.
- Keep a notebook or your phone with a note taking app open near you when watching tv, films, or reading a book yourself.
You never know when a name will crop up that intrigues you, or resonates with you, and it’s all too easy to forget something that seemed like gold when you heard it! Sometimes the character in whatever you are watching is like the person you have in mind, or even a total opposite, but the name seems to fit, anyway. Maybe they look similar or have the same job. Maybe you just like the name for future reference- just write it down if it is a little out of the ordinary. Please don’t do this with Game of Thrones, it will be far too obvious where you drew your inspiration from.
This noting technique is also really helpful for incidental characters in your book- have you planned a friend or co-worker who has a small role in the book but not a strong character? Don’t know what to name them? Check your list- they could be a Lisa or an Aubrey, but to have that list handy takes a lot of overthinking out of the process.
- Don’t spend too long on naming your characters.
This goes for every aspect of writing- done is better than perfect and the more time you spend on naming your characters, the further behind you are likely to get. I tend to sketch out a character profile in about 20 minutes, including details like eye colour, skin colour, clothing style, job, background, age, likes and dislikes, family background etc, at which point a name is easier to settle on as I have a clear idea of who the character is becoming. A street tough with tattoos and a drug problem might have a nickname but probably won’t go by his given name of Douglas or Jeffrey among his gang member friends- it would jar the reader out of alignment with the story. Conversely, can you imagine an accountant called Blade? It sure could happen, but a name builds the character as much as their traits, so, while you can definitely be creative, my advice is to stay within some broad strokes for what ‘fits’ your character.
- Imagine this name being panted out in desire- does it sound right? Does it tick any of your own boxes?
Personally, I try to avoid longer names as they might come across as awkward during any sex scenes, though of course you can often shorten them. Fenella becomes Fen, Arabella becomes Bella, Gustavius… Well, I don’t know how to shorten that one! Maybe Gus but I don’t find that super sexy myself. But, it’s something to keep in mind if you have a hankering to call your male lead Baron Rothschild Forthwick Evandrard the 9th, and there isn’t an obvious name your heroine can scream out in pleasure as he breaches her with his… you get the picture.
- Don’t be afraid of the absurd.
I have read plenty of books where not one person has a name I would recognise amongst my circle of friends and acquaintances- maybe we are a boring collection of Becky’s and Jo’s- but that doesn’t mean you can’t name your characters things like Bubbles Princess the Third if you want to! I would advise that you think about the genre and what feels like a good fit. In a billionaire romance, the lead is more likely to be called Rex or Charles than Boomer or Toad. In a sci-fi, these would be perfectly fine to call your lead, whatever gender they might be.
- The internet is your friend!
Baby name lists are a great resource, particularly if you have an idea of what year your characters were born. E.g., your female lead was born 33 years ago in Greece, google most popular baby names of that year in Greece, and then take your pick from whichever seems to fit her character profile. Again, don’t spend too long on this process, any more than probably 20 minutes, and you risk getting stuck in analysis paralysis. You can always go back and change the name later on if you decide to go a different way with your character or your book in general. First things first though, just get it decided.
And there you have it, my top tips to choose your romance character names quickly and easily!