Posted by: Kathleen Mix | November 8, 2012

What’s in a Name

Naming the characters in my novels is always a daunting task. I’m often unable to start writing a story until I know the identities of my major characters. Once I’ve found the perfect names, my characters come alive.
To non-writers, names might seem simple. They may suggest, “Call them John and Mary, and get on with the plot.”
John and Mary are wholesome, American names, but they don’t fit every character. Whether we’re aware of our reactions or not, we tend to judge people by their names. And a fitting name can help readers picture the person we create.
I make associations with names. If I hear the names Rock, Stone, Clint, or Curt, I’m likely to picture a strong, forceful man. Darrell and Willard are country boys. Remington and Walker are sophisticated.
A heroine with soft vowel sounds in her name is the kind of woman a man wants to bring home to his mother. Dawn, Dora, Melanie, and Maura are wholesome, girls-next-door. Sara Lynn is sweet and grew up in the South.
Peg and Carla have hard consonant sounds than make me believe they are tougher and more worldly. Barbi and Bambi are party animals. Sapphire is a swinger.
Gertrude, Viola, Milton, and Irving are all over eighty years old. Tuuli, Tayleigh, Boshawn, and Jac-Eddie are probably all under thirty.
Men with three names, like Lee Harvey Oswald or John Wilkes Booth, are likely to be villains.
Mitt and Barrack are both names that denote power. But could the tiny babies given those names have developed into another type of adult or do our names influence our development? Singer Johnny Cash sang about how a father insured his son would grow up tough by naming the boy Sue. Maybe if parents call a girl Bubbles, she grows up in an atmosphere where the world is fun and not to be taken seriously.
The sub-conscious associations we attach to names mean the characters in my books need a name that reflects the personality I plan to give them. A Jimmy-John going by the name Reese will be conflicted and confused. A Uri going by the name Jose won’t be able to love vodka.
Whether a girl is Elizabeth, Betsy, Liz, or Her Majesty, the Queen of England, matters. And I can’t write her story until I known what to call her.



  1. When I am stuck for a name, I go to the phone book and look at LAST names. I then use it as a first name. This works especially well if I need a very unique name.


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