Thursday, June 3, 2010

Selecting Character Names

The main characters in my novel, The Ride, are named Barbie and Ken. I’m often asked if I chose those names intentionally or if it’s simply a coincidence. The answer is—intentional. The dolls, with their shapely bodies, flawless skin, matching accessories, nice houses, and fancy cars represent perfect people and an ideal life. My characters, Barbie and Ken, couldn’t be more opposite in appearance or lifestyle. They were also aware of the irony of their names. In one scene, when speaking about her husband, my protagonist says, “Our appearance may not resemble the dolls but our relationship is as plastic as they are.”

Deciding on a name for each of my characters is an important step in my writing process. After all, I can’t help but wonder if Rhett Butler of Gone with the Wind fame had been named Joe Smith instead, would the character have had the same impact? If Hannibal Lecter had been called, John Davis, would we feel the fear run down our spine at the mere mention of his name? If the Great Gatsby had been the Great Jones? Or if Sherlock Holmes…well, you get the idea.

For advice on naming characters, I’d recommend the article by Linda Schab of Wow! Women on Writing. How 2 Choose Character names for Your Novel, If you’re writing a novel set in a certain era, you may also want to check out the Social Security site Here you can find a list of the most popular names for any year after 1879. It’s a fun site to visit even if you’re not looking for a character name.

As a writer, how do you come up with character names? As a reader, how important are the names of the characters to you?

Jane has had several articles published and has won a couple of short story contests. Her first novel, The Ride, received an honorable mention for best first chapter of a novel. Her second novel, Reigning Cats and Dogs, (due to be released later this year) was a finalist in the 2009 Royal Palm Literary Contest.

Jane lives in Florida where she’s an active member of the Gulf Coast Writers Association and the Florida Writers Association. When taking a break from writing, she enjoys walks along the beach or in the park, bicycling, kayaking and playing with my grandson.

The Ride is available in hardcover or Kindle on It is also available through other online bookstores or can be ordered by your favorite brick and mortar store.

To find out more, please visit her blog or her web page


  1. Jane, this is a great article. Choosing the right name for a character is so important.

    When writing my children's fantasy chapter book, Walking Through Walls, I had to come up with 16th century Chinese names. I ended up asking a Chinese writer I know for some suggestions.

    Thanks for the links and sharing.

  2. I love this! Thanks for sharing. Character names are so important. Great reminder.

  3. Naming a character is just like naming your children. You want to give them a name which fits who you think they are or will become.

  4. Great resources for naming characters! Jane, you're so right about how important a name is. Barbie and Ken fit your characters perfectly. I loved The Ride and can't wait for Reigning Cats and Dogs to come out!

  5. Thanks for hosting me, Nancy.

    Karen, coming up with a 16th century Chinese name would be a challenge. I have run across a site that lists names by ethnic groups, but I’m not sure Chinese is one of the groups. The site is

    Thanks, Debra.

    I agree, Virginia, that the process of picking character names is like naming our children.

  6. I always check baby name books and try to choose characters names with meanings that suit their personalities.

  7. I always have trouble choosing a name for my characters. Thanks for your wisdom, Jane.

  8. Funny, my husband is just selecting character names for a play he's writing. Naturally I'll send this to him!
    Carolyn Howard-Johnson
    Blogging writers' resources at Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites pick

  9. Such an interesting piece, Jane! Thank you for sharing. Character names are SO important, and it was nice to get a peak inside your process for naming characters!

    :) Dallas

  10. Jane, thanks for visiting. It's a great article. Sorry for the gremlins!!

  11. Jane thanks for the tips.
    Good luck with your books
    Martha Swirzinski

  12. Thanks so much, Darcia. I’m glad you enjoyed “The Ride.”

    Baby name books are also a good source. Thanks for mentioning that, Janet.

    Kathy, I think it’s a difficult process for any fiction author.

    Carolyn, I hope the sites can help your husband with names for the characters in his play.

    Thanks, Dallas.

    Nancy, it was a pleasure to be here. Don’t worry about the gremlins - I think we all get them from time to time:)

    You’re welcome, Martha.

    I appreciate all of you stopping by and leaving a comment. Thanks.

  13. For my first book EARRINGS I used names based on Mexican myths and legends. Even my main character's mother's name Concha--Concepcion was symbolic.

    In CROSSED OUT one character's name came to me while going to a bank. The teller's name, Cura, fascinated me. I asked her about it and she told me her mother was a huge Cure fan. Hence my best friend's name was born!

    I think names are important. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Wonderful article! I write non-fiction and didn't realize how much thought went into selecting character names. Great resources!

  15. Thank you, Jane! I'm having a problem renaming one of my characters--I had too many women with names ending in "ie." Two of them are based on real people and the third was my character, Nettie, from my first novel, already published, so I can't change her! The one I can change is Ruthie, a feisty,very over-active, enthusiastic 13- year-old who acts more like a 10-year-old. I came up with Ginger, which I thought would fit because she's a redhead. But my critique group members don't like it. So I'll be checking out those sites you recommended.

  16. Nancy, please visit and find a surprise.