Disclaimer: this post has spoilers for the Ever Afters series through OWAW.
I don’t follow the same process for every single character, but I can shed a little insight on how I find names.
The Main Characters
Typically, the most thought goes into the names of the main characters, and I usually pick them around the same time. Readers will see their names together over and over again, so it makes sense to create them as a set.
Sometimes, the content of the story determine a character’s name.
After the initial idea, bits of the plot and backstory come next, and if I’m lucky, that will suggest a character name to me.
For The Ever Afters, I figured out Lena’s name first: I knew that the main character’s female best friend would get her Tale in the first book: “Jack and the Beanstalk.” I thought it would be fun if her name tied into that Tale somehow.
The name “Jackie” was too obvious; “Jacqueline” might have been too obvious too, BUT giving her the nickname of “Lena” made it work.
Sometimes, you’ll do a little research and make a list, picking the one you like the best.
I settled on Chase’s name next.
When I’m researching names, I have two major resources: the baby name book that I picked up second-hand in a consignment shop as a teenager, and also, BehindTheName.com, which I discovered in middle school.
Any baby name book will do the trick, but what I especially love about this particular baby name book is that it doesn’t just list one name for every entry. It lists multiple variations, so you can find a spelling that you like. It’s great for flipping through when you’re stuck. Even if it doesn’t give you the right name, it may just give you an idea that pushes you in the right direction.
Behind The Name is awesome too: you can browse by gender, by the first letter of the name, and by the part of the world where the name originates. Best of all, you can search for names by meaning.
Anyway, I used both of these to create a list.
For the dude main character, I wanted something that either had to do with nature (because of his Fey heritage) or had a warrior feel/meaning (because of his dad). I was especially digging the letter “C.”
Here’s what I came up with:
I starred my top choices. You can see Chase was always at the top of the heap—despite the fact that I’d known a Chase in elementary school and didn’t like him much. (Not the same way that Rory “doesn’t like” Chase, I promise.)
But what made me settle on Chase was what happened at the beginning of OGAI: Chase’s first significant act in the book, the first time you start to suspect that he could be a good friend to Rory, was when he chased Rory down the hill and followed her into the dragon’s lair. Yeah, maybe he wanted a little of the glory for himself, but he was also the only kid in their grade who made sure she didn’t face a fire-breathing monster all on her own.
(By this same reckoning, Lena’s name gets more awesome: she’s the character that Rory is mostly likely to “lean” on.)
Sometimes, you just like a certain name…but then you have to change it later—even if it’s the name of your main character.
I think I actually named my main character first. BUT in the first few drafts, her name was Piper. It was actually “Piper Jane Landon:” our next door neighbors had two little girls named Jane and Piper, and I really liked them AND their names. (Also, in the first draft, Chase nicknamed her “Pipes,” especially after she screamed at the end of Chapter 1.)
Fast-forward to Summer 2010. I’d written and revised OGAI, and I’d gotten an agent, Jo, and revised it again. We were JUST about ready to go on submission, ie. send the manuscript to publishers and hope they liked it.
Then Rick Riordan released a sneak peek of his new series, The Heroes of Olympus….which featured Piper, a daughter of Aphrodite and an ACTOR.
I was like, WAH? SERIOUSLY?
Jo and I agreed that we should probably change the name of MY main character—to avoid confusion.
I did some research and made a list, like I did for Chase. This time, instead of making the decision on my own, I emailed it to Jo and her awesome assistant at the time, Sara:
Here are the potentials in alphabetical order:
(I actually have more than this, but these are way up there on the list.)
Okay, here are some of the cons with those.
Reese may sound too similar to Chase. My bff told me that she thinks that Taryn sounds like a clumsy old lady, which kind of made it lose favor. Arden also sounds a bit old (but Elizabeth Arden may be influencing my opinion).
But Hazel and Robyn are my absolute favs of the bunch. Those are the names that are easy for me to write and easy for me to imagine Chase, Lena, and Amy saying in my head (not to sound too schizo or anything :-P).
(Note: now that I’ve read The Lost Hero, I’m glad I didn’t pick Hazel.)
Sara weighed in: she liked Hazel and Robyn, but she also liked Rory—she thought it conveyed strength, like Piper did.
Jo said she liked Hazel and Robyn, but Rory was her favorite. It was different and powerful. She also pointed out that Hazel was really similar to Hansel, which might get confusing for certain sword class scenes.
I wrote back and said that the only thing that kept “Rory” from being a major contender was having a Gilmore Girls obsession and assuming that everyone else associated Rory with slender, doll-faced, soft-voiced Rory Gilmore. Jo and Sara assured me that they didn’t even think of that until I pointed it out.
What clenched the deal, though, was realizing that I could use “Rory” as a nickname for “Aurora.” I decided that it would be WAY TOO MUCH FUN to have a character named Aurora, who did NOT end up as Sleeping Beauty, especially considering who ended up getting that Tale. 😛
Tip: Make sure that your names aren’t too similar to each other. If possible, try not to pick names that have the same first letter or start with the same sound. If you do, make sure that there’s a reason why these kids need to be associated with each other, like Kyle/Kevin/Conner or even Rory/Rapunzel and Chase/Cal. This is for your benefit as much as the readers.
One of the mistakes I made early on was naming Lena’s brother “George” and General Searcaster’s son “Jimmy.” Since then, I have mixed up their names ALL THE TIME. In fact, I think there’s a mistake in OEAE somewhere; even my copyeditor didn’t catch it.
Last names: I use a trial and error system.
While naming characters, I actively collect last names that sound good with the first names I’ve already chosen. (This is the opposite of what you do when you’re naming a baby; typically, you start with a last name and find a first name that matches it.)
I steal them from people I meet. I steal them off book spines. I’ve also watched the credits of a movie and picked likely-looking names.
I’ve also just made them up. I know I made up “Turnleaf:” I wanted something nature-y, to reflect Chase’s Fey heritage, but I didn’t want it to be so obviously non-human that people stopped reading and thought, What kind of weird name is that? I’m pretty sure I made up LaMarelle too, because I wanted something pretty and fancy, implying Lena’s illustrious ancestry with Madame Benne. (In my personal head canon, Lena’s grandparents were from New Orleans, but I’m sure that the Princess and the Frog had something to do with that idea. Thanks, Disney.)
Then I put it with the first name. I write it down and say it out loud a few times. If I pick a last name for a character, and I like it for a whole week, or even better, a whole manuscript, I usually keep it.
Typically, I just make these up as I go.
Sometimes, I go by feel rather than meaning.
For example, Adelaide HAD to have a snooty yet classy name, so I gave her a bunch of them: Charlotte Adelaide Eleanora Radcliffe.
Ben Taylor, on the other hand, is a pretty ordinary dude; what makes him extraordinary is how comfortable he is being his corny, kind-hearted self—which is a really awesome quality for Chase’s best male friend to have. Also, in my personal head canon, Ben is from the South, which uses a lot of first names for last names. I picked a couple that sounded the friendliest.
Sometimes, I go by association.
Miriam’s name comes from a famous sister. The Biblical Miriam put her little brother, Moses, in the water and saved his life, which I thought would be a nice touch when Miriam and Philip got their Tale.
The process for these follows the same pattern as the regular characters.
The most thought goes into naming the main villain: I stumbled upon Solange in the baby name book, and I liked that it was French—like the Snow Queen was—and that it meant “dignified,” which fit. It also sounds both pretty and slightly sinister.
Most of the time, I just make them up as I go along: “Searcaster” was one of those—“caster” to indicate casting magic and then “sear” to make it a little more terrifying. 🙂
I think that just about covers it—I don’t remember how I named every single character, but this should shed a little insight into how my naming process works!!
Please feel free to ask any followup questions in the comments of this post!
If you would like to read more posts on writing, please go ahead and check out the Journeypen Project Table of Contents here; if you have thought of another topic you would like me to write about (and don’t see it in the Table of Contents), go and leave a comment in the Suggestion Box here.
This post is dedicated to Katie W. and Katherine R., who suggested this topic!