Thursday, October 11, 2012

Today I’m delighted to present Marilyn Meredith, author of over thirty published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series. She’s going to share some of her secrets about naming characters.
Marilyn Meredith

By Marilyn Meredith

For me, this is one of the most important aspects of the creation of your characters. The name should in some way fit the character’s personality.

An example: If you have a strong, muscular hero you wouldn’t want to give him a weak sounding name like Lauren or Percy. You may know some body-builder types with those names, but for your book pick a name that will evoke the sense of the character for the reader.

Make sure that the characters in your book don’t all have names that begin with the same letter, rhyme, or all the same number of syllables. You never want to confuse your characters.

If you are writing a fantasy or sci-fi and your making up names, be sure they are able to be pronounced easily. If the reader can’t say the name in his/her mind, they’ll have trouble remembering who each person is. I’ve been reading books by Scandanavian authors and I’ve had a hard time keeping track of who is who because of the names that I can’t pronounce.

Having said what I did about made-up names, don’t give everyone simple names like Mary, John, Bill, Joe, Jane. If a name is a bit unusual, the reader will have an easier time remembering it. Of course there are exceptions—Jack Reacher for instance. Jack is a strong name even though it’s simple—but the character is mainly known as Reacher.

When I first started submitting my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series, I had an agent tell me Tempe was too unusual of a name and to come up with something else. Obviously, I didn’t follow her advice. Tempe Crabtree was my great-grandmother’s name and I thought it worked for as a Native American. Another prominent Indian character in this series is Nick Two John.

Though some young mothers are using old-fashioned names for their children, others are making up names. One of my granddaughters used syllables from her mother’s and mother-in-law’s first names for an original name for her baby. You might even try that if you can’t come up with the exact name you want.

If you are writing an historical novel, be sure to check and see if the names you want were in use during that time period.

Where to find names? The Internet has a wealth of names. You can find names from any country and popular baby names.

What I like to do is keep graduation programs and use the names I find there—of course I mix up first and last names. Other writers I know use names they’ve found in obituaries.

Keep track of what you’ve named your minor characters so that you don’t give them a different name later on in the book. (Yes, I’ve done that.)

I hope this has will be helpful to you when you start naming the characters that you’ve created. And readers, perhaps this has given you some insight into how difficult the author’s task is when it comes to naming their creations.
Meredith's latest mystery, Raging Water from Mundania Press:
Mor information about Raging Water
Raging Water

 Deputy Tempe Crabtree’s investigation of the murder of two close friends is complicated when relentless rain turns Bear Creek into a raging river. Homes are inundated and a mud slide blocks the only road out of Bear Creek stranding many—including the murderer.

Meredith also writes as F. M. Meredith, and her latest Rocky Bluff P.D. crime novel is No Bells, the fourth from Oak Tree Press. She has taught for Writers Digest School for ten years and serves as a judge in several writing contests. Marilyn is a member of EPIC, three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. Visit her at and follow her blog at
Marilyn borrows a lot from where she lives in the Southern Sierra for the town of Bear Creek and the surrounding area.

Thanks to Marilyn for visiting today, and thanks to all readers who have stopped by.

Jackie King


Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Thanks you, Jackie for having me on again today. Every time I read one of my posts I find typos. Oh well, the information is right anyway.

Jake said...

Like the way you select names especially when you have contest. Historical names can be fun.

Unknown said...

It's funny you should mention character names that start with the same first letter. I recently finished a short story and realized that three character names started with the letter D. Oops! Needless to say, I had to go back and make a few adjustments.

Great post, Meredith!

Lorna Collins - Author said...

I'm glad you mentioned that the characters should nave names consistent with their period. And they should be from the period WHEN THE CHARACTER WAS BORN. I hate picking up a book written about the early twentieth century and seeing a character named Rainbow or summer. these didn't come into vogue until the hippies in the 1970s started naming their children.

If I use an unusual name, I check to see if there are any others in the country or explain it.

I also try to have characters whose names are pronounceable. One of my writing partners keeps coming up with weird and difficult names. One of these will completely pull me out of the narrative.

Marja said...

You should have a name like Marja. No one pronounces it correctly, they want to know if it's a combination name (like Mary+Jack, it's not). Oh, and it's a hard "j", not like an "h". My point? Pick names people can pronounce. By the way, the name is actually Finnish. The correct pronounciation is another story. :)
Marja McGraw

Michelle Fidler said...

Yeah, I hate it when a lot of characters have names that begin with the same letter. It gets confusing when Billy and Bobby are on the same page in a story and then you get them mixed up, especially if you're reading fast.

I also agree with the comment that names should be in the proper historical context, instead of picking names that have just become popular or weren't popular or around when the character was born. Going to school in the late 70's and 80's, most kids had normal names -- lots of Jennifers, etc.

On Lifetime there was a remake of the movie The Blue Lagoon and the actress's real first name was Indiana (made me think of Indiana Jones). On Mysteries at the Museum they mentioned a woman named Indiana ... and she lived 100 or more years ago!

I found the link to this blog on Facebook.

Sally Carpenter said...

In the first draft of my book I had characters named Bunny, Billy, Sandy and Bernie. Ouch! Sounded like a doo-wop group. Bernie became Hank. My trouble is that I change my characters names several times in the first draft to find the right "fit." Then I have to go back and make sure the names are consistent. A good source for names is the Social Security website which has the top 100 most popular baby names over a number of years.

Unknown said...

In my 1st novel, CHANUKAH GUILT, I wrote the following exchange about names:

“Ready? Here are the names: Phillips’ mother, Henrietta -- I think it was originally Yetta – is at least eighty-five years old and looks not a day over eighty-four, despite frequent trips to Switzerland for injections of sheep placentas; the ex-wives are Sylvia and Marilyn. Jennifer is his current wife. Rumor has it that she was slated to be replaced by Tyler, but you’d better not mention her in public. His sons with Sylvia are Kenneth and Brian; their half-sisters, via Marilyn, are Madison and Ashley. Samantha, who’s still an infant, is his daughter with Jennifer. His only grandchild, Ken and Kayla’s daughter, is Sophie. So far as I know, Tyler’s not pregnant.”

I had to laugh again. “Are those really the names, or are we preparing a list for a sociological survey on the changing American taste in children’s names?”

In my second, UNLEAVENED DEAD, soon to be published by Oak Tree Press, the bad guy (and corpse) is a psychologist. Fortunately, I decided to Google the name I had chosen - and discovered several psychologists with the same name. I changed it to John Quincy Moorhouse. There were no Google hits.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Thank you everyone for your great comments about naming characters. You added so much to this discussion.


Jaden Terrell said...

Great advice, Marilyn. I'm altogether too partial to the letter "J."