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Character Names

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 26, 2010

clip_image002How does a writer devise a name for a character? First, we can’t choose a name similar to the other main characters or you’ll run into people named Maria, Marilyn, and Merle. It gets confusing for the reader. So that eliminates certain sounds and letters. The character’s ethnic heritage or her role in the story may influence your choice. For example, I can’t proceed with plotting my next romance without obtaining a name for my heroine, but so far, nothing has struck my fancy. The story is based on Norse mythology so that gives me a place to start. I looked in The Writer’s Digest Character Naming Sourcebook by Sherrilyn Kenyon, an excellent resource that lists names by nationality and gives their meanings. Then I drew up a list of Norwegian female names that caught my interest. I narrowed these down to selections with a certain sound I wanted.

To visualize my characters, I cut out pix from magazines like TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly. So here is my heroine. She’s the perfect counterpart to my serious, brooding hero, Lord Magnor.

clip_image004

My female name choices:

Dagny (joy of the Danes)

Kelci (from the ship’s island) Kelsey

Mildri (mild and lovely)

Randi (lovely, goddess) Ragnfrid, Ragni

Brief character sketch: Heroine sculpts mythical figures of trolls and fairies out of natural materials and sells them online. Owns a pottery studio, wants to open a gift shop, and maybe teach children arts and crafts.

Other Women in the series: Nira, Jennifer, Lianne, Algie

Men: Zohar, Paz, Magnor, Dal, Kaj, Yaron

If I name her Dagny, I can’t call her Dag for short because one of the established heroes is Dal. So I have to keep in mind these other people when I choose her name. Mildri is cute but maybe too mild for her. Kelsey is too ordinary, although Kelci is a different spelling that might work. Ragni? Call her Rage for short? Hey, that might do. She looks kinda angry at the world, doesn’t she? I can’t nickname her Rag with a soft “g” because it would sound too much like Kaj.

What do you think? Who does she look like to you? Any other suggestions? What means do you, the writer, use to determine your character names?

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4 Responses to “Character Names”

  1. Ooh, fun! Here’s some I found in “A World Of Baby Names”:
    Erika – Old Norse, Erik, eternal ruler
    Rona – Norwegian, mighty power
    Runa – Old Norse, secret lore
    Sigrid – Old Norse, victory and beautiful
    Tora – Latin version of Old Norse, Thunder
    Thora – obvious, for Thor

  2. Thanks for these suggestions, Allison. I’ll add them to my list. This heroine has red hair so she might also have a touch of Irish blood.

  3. M. E. Kemp said

    I open one of my colonial history books or diaries and names just pop out at me. Colonial America used lots of Biblical names, so that’s another source. The character who finds the body in my latest book, DEATH OF A DANCING MASTER, is Jacob Joyliffe. My detectives are Mehitable (Hetty) Henry and Increase “Creasy” Cotton, cousin of the real-life Cotton Mather. The obnoxious constable is John Phillymort, a colonial corruption of a French word meaning “dead leaf.” Sometimes I find a name before I find a character to fit! M. E. Kemp

  4. Those are great names, M.E. I’m waiting for my heroine’s name to jump out at me, too.

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