Last night I was speaking to a friend of mine about how I choose the names my characters. She, too, is a writer and is having some difficulty with what to call the protagonist in one of her stories. She thought she had picked a name she liked, but later realized that she was wrong. She even went so far as to say the name annoys her. And she wanted to know what she could do about it.
I told her my process. It’s actually pretty simple one, I think. Though it does involve a little trial and error.
I write until I come upon the name that feels right.
That means, whenever I sit down to write I have no idea what a character should be called. I start with whatever name pops into my head. Then, as time goes on, I either keep it or change it.
For example, in Glory, Adam started off as Sam and Jane was Jenny. But those names never resonated with me. I couldn’t see Adam as a “Sam”, nor Jane as a “Jenny”. So I changed them.
I will say that sometimes my first choice is right. Marianne was always Marianne, and Scooter Scooter.
But, for the most part, the names change at least once or twice before I settle on it.
I should add here that, once I do settle on it, I never go back to make the proper changes until the editing stage. Anyone who has read any of my first drafts will be able to tell you all about it. Characters appears to be different people – several different people, actually (depending on how many names I had to try before I settled upon the right one). But I don’t think it’s ever too confusing. And I always find it’s best to keep going with a story until it’s done.
And that’s all there is to it.
Now, I know this process isn’t going to work for everyone. Choosing a character’s name can involve a lot for some writers. I’ve spoken to people who look up the meanings of names, and sometimes even the historical figures who have been given them. Others use the names of friends and family, or even simply people they’re reminded of. And if that works for them, good.
But, for me, I have no interest in any of that stuff. My concern is simply with how a name feels. Nothing more.
How about you? Is there a particular way you choose names for your characters? If so, I’d love to hear about it.