What’s in a Name?

What’s in a name? A whole lot when you write fiction. Finding the perfect name is a big step in the creative process.

Take your heroine Mildred and rename her Roxy. Viola! A whole different persona.

But how to pick a decent name for your character? And of even more importance, how NOT to pick a name. Here are some things to consider.

Baby Name Books

I think most writers have one of these, not to mention all of the online naming sites available now. But a big flashing warning to those single female writers out there. Beware of leaving your baby name book out on your coffee table when you bring home a first date. Trust me, a guy walking in and seeing your baby name book, that doesn’t go over so well. Might as well show up to meet him wearing a wedding dress.

Evil Trolls from Your Past

I know it’s tempting to name a character after someone you hate from your past. Perhaps that mean girl in high school or the guy who broke your heart. After all, as a writer, I have the option of killing that character off for the ultimate revenge. I’m not trying to stop you from doing so. But just consider this – even an evil/dead/zombie/crazy character is still going to be in your book. Do you want to give that past evil troll the satisfaction of being immortalized in print?

Anyone You’ve Ever Met Ever

I strongly urge you to never, ever, ever name a character after anyone in your life. It does not matter what kind of character you invent. If they have the same name as someone you know, that someone will think it’s based on them. “Oh, Kerri, that character you named after me is soooo me.” Really? Really? That character was a serial killer!


What’s in a name? A lot to think about. But the joy of this sometimes prickly process is that no matter what name you do pick, there will always be the option of search and replace.

Just in case.



39 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?

  1. Hi Mermaid Kerri!
    Fabulous and funny post this morning 🙂
    I actually just got some contest feedback that pointed out something I hadn’t thought about so I’ll throw it out here in your Name Game post. Having too many characters whose names start with the same sound. Rob, Rona and Ricky might be a little too heavy on the “rrrr’s” or Kiki, Kylie and Keifer”. Although I think that last trio might make for a cool island mystery where all the peeps are part of a mysterious luau group. Anywho, must get back to Jaxon, Trista and Lucky. 😉

    1. Kiki – I like that. Hmmmm… might have to steal! 😉

      Well, Carlene-Mermaid, you are not alone. I know of another beautiful mermaid who has done this – used the same letter names. Let’s see if she shows up here today.

      1. Well, here I am! I do suppose it’s me with my whole collection of “M” names? Mary, Marley, Malcolm, Miss Melanie, Coach Mindy, Mitch, Marlena, and Martha? And that’s all in one story. One! I had to actually go back a ways to find all the old names because I’ve since changed several of them. Still a handful of “M” names, but not so much…
        Glad I can always provide a laugh for you. 🙂

        1. That you can. But for your next book, you need to rock out the K names. You know what I’m talking about….

          1. You know it! I’m gonna change my last name too. Kerri Karpenter! Where’s my hair extensions?

  2. Hahahahaha as to a date coming into your apartment to find a baby name book on the table! Has this ever happened?!
    In my latest ms, I’ve changed the name of a couple of minor characters, but I found that I could not, no matter how hard I tried, change the main characters’ names. When I started writing this story, I picked some “for now” names to use until I could come up with the perfect names. Well, the characters grew into their “for now” names and refused to let go. I even did a search and replace for the sister in my story, but after a day, I had to change her name back to the original because it was too strange. So I’d like to add another word of warning: choose even those “for now” names with care!

    1. That’s excellent advice, P.H., about picking those for now names carefully. And sometimes it really is hard when the character comes to you with their own name. How in the world do you change it on them?

    2. Good advice, P.H. The only exception is when you name a character and then a year or two later a big time crime & subsequent trial happens and your lovely heroine is named after the victim. Yes, that’s right, I named someone Laci Peterson once. Grrrr!

  3. I am laughing out loud at “Might as well wear a wedding dress to meet him” I’m terrible at names. My names tend to be boring. The world’s greatest author at picking names has to be JK Rowling. “Severus Snape, Luna Lovegood, Draco Malfoy” Seriously, it doesn’t get better than that.

    1. Oooohhh, you are so right, Lynne! Now I want to go home and read Harry Potter all day! Thanks for visiting! 😉

      1. Now I want to go home and watch fast forwards to all of Professor Snape’s scenes. He’s so handsome…well to me he is!

        1. Carlene, Now you’re an official member of WRW. It’s a little known fact that most WRWers of all ages LOVE Alan Rickman. I learned that litttle tidbit on a writer’s retreat a few years ago.

  4. Damn!! And all this time I was hoping to read about a Danielle… So funny 🙂 I must say that when I read a book that has complicated names, spellings or names that are too close together like Richard and Rowland it can be hard for the reader (me) to remember who is which. Or if you just do not connect with a name I find that it effects how much I like, or dislike, the book (ie Chantel) Or maybe it is just me.

    Kiki is a fun beachy name! Kiki sitting under the Tiki drinking a Mai Tai :o)

    1. Oh you know when I write about you I use the name Abby! You silly bunny! 😉

  5. I let my characters name themselves, they are insistent little buggers…..

  6. I also have the baby name books. My husband gave a bunch away after the fifth child was born, and I was so annoyed. He probably thought I wanted an even half dozen, but I just wanted those books for naming characters. 🙂
    I’ve since had to pick them up at garage sales and library sales. Not more babies. Just the books. 🙂
    But, like you mentioned, it’s easy enough to do online now. There’s still something exciting about thumbing through a book with names. Oh, the possibilities.
    And then, if in doubt, just name the character with an “M” name. They seem to be extremely popular…at least in mine. LOL.
    Thanks for a fun post, Kerri! The wedding dress comment reminded me of Friends when the three girls are sitting around in the wedding dresses. 😉

  7. Thanks for the wonderful and entertaining post Kerri. If you one day see a scene in one of my books where the writer heroine is picked up for a date and has a baby name book on her coffee table you’ll know I was thinking of you! And of course I’ll totally give you credit!!! 🙂
    Names are really hard because they bring so much to a character. I have been known to name my characters “hero” and “heroine” until I come up with a name that suits them… then I do a find/replace. The problem is when every name you come up with starts with the same letter, like say and “M” for example. LOL!

    1. Thanks, Dana-Mermaid! Can’t wait to read your book with the baby name book in it. I totally want a mention in the acknowledgements for that. 😉

      1. You will definitely be there! I’ll even have to reference this post for full effect! I can totally see the scene playing out in my head like a movie. LOL! 🙂

  8. Well, between me and the original Danielle, I think our name will have to be understood as omitted from any potential books!! There is always the dedication page though:)

    1. Ha-ha! Very true, Other Danielle! And a very happy, happy, happy birthday to you!!! 😉

  9. I don’t know how you keep coming up with these great ideas for this blog! I find that sometimes when I don’t like the name in a story (or can’t pronounce it), I just make up one that I like! I wonder if anyone else does that?

    Happy Birthday Other Danielle

  10. How funny this all is! I certainly have not shied away from using family’s or friends’ names in my stories. My niece is a (good) sister in one, my father’s name is used as a place name (it’s also my son’s middle name). The house I place my story in is named with my father-in-law’s middle name. I have little in-jokes throughout, and amuse myself that one day (please!) my family will get a chance to read it and say to themselves, “You sly dog, you used this and let me find out about it now???”

  11. Doesn’t Nicholas Sparks always use the name of one of his kids in his books?

      1. Which is why family names work for me. Between me and hubby, there are ten children, plus in-laws, plus 21 grand children. And the next generation is beginning to arrive!

  12. You must have been reading my mind today. Working on a new idea (novel) and coming up with name is difficult. Came up with Tricia (short for Patricia), Darlene and Alex–No not O’Laughlin but the thought did come to mind. 🙂
    Gotta love Hawaii 50!

    1. Ooohh a new novel – good luck, Loni-Mermaid. I will totally loan you my baby name book! 😉

  13. Creative commentary, as always, Kerri. I am a little confused about the baby book comment though. I though the proper first date gift was a wedding planner business card, home prices in the burbs, baby name books and wedding ring pictures. Have I been mislead all these years?

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