Choosing character names? Sometimes the Good Book can help

by Paula Graves, author of Bachelor Sheriff (Harlequin Intrigue, September 2010)

My process for naming characters can be haphazard—sometimes, I’ve come up with the name first and built the character around it, while other times, I strongly have a character in mind, and I have to search for just the right name.

In my current miniseries for Harlequin Intrigue, Cooper Justice, my characters are six brothers and a sister from a small-town Alabama family whose unspoken motto was “God, country and family.” They needed traditional names, so I went to the Bible for them—Hannah, Sam, Luke, Aaron, Jake, Gabe and James, who goes by J.D. You’ll get to read about Jake, Gabe and J.D. in their stories, Hitched and Hunted, The Man from Gossamer Ridge and Cooper Vengeance, out in April, May and June of 2011.

Ultimately, you have to view your characters as real people, and give them names that will help bring them to life.

Check out my website www.paulagraves.com for information on upcoming titles and more!

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Comments ( 14 )
  1. SheliaG
    November 2, 2010 at 8:49 am
    Reply

    I’ve been reading all the posts and so glad to see that my techniques when it comes to naming my characters are similar. It’s good knowing you’re not alone in taking special care in naming characters of your story.

  2. Melinda B. Pierce
    November 2, 2010 at 9:18 am
    Reply

    Great post Paula!

  3. Debbie K.
    November 2, 2010 at 9:35 am
    Reply

    Good source, Paula! I hadn’t thought about where your names came from when I was reading your stories. Just noticed that they were good, strong names!

  4. Paula Graves
    November 2, 2010 at 11:40 am
    Reply

    I can be really picky about names. I don’t want to use “cliche” hero names, for instance. It’s not that I don’t like names like Chance, Drake or Callum, but I write a lot of sexy Southern heroes, and we tend to be a little more traditional down here about what we name little boys. So I’ve been trying to go through the more traditional names first.

    Once I run out of those, then maybe I’ll start throwing in a Declan or a Huntley. 🙂

  5. Rebecca York
    November 2, 2010 at 12:29 pm
    Reply

    I like to use the Social Security data base that tells which are the most popular names. Many turn out to be traditional names.

  6. kayla kerns
    November 2, 2010 at 12:51 pm
    Reply

    Great article Paula!

  7. Melanie Dickerson
    November 2, 2010 at 12:55 pm
    Reply

    That’s very smart thinking, Paula! I sometimes think I can tell when an author thought hard about what name would fit the character, and when they just slapped on a name because it looks and sounds cool. Writing Southern historicals, I like to look at census records for authentic names. I’ve also been known to go to old cemeteries and write down names off of headstones. I found some great Southern names that way.

    Love the Bible names! And loved your last book, One Tough Marine! Great characters.

  8. Tweets that mention Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd. -- Topsy.com
    November 2, 2010 at 1:11 pm
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    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dawn P and Dana Marton, Paula Graves. Paula Graves said: I'm 1 of many authors blogging today on the Harlequin Blog. The topic: character names. Drop by and comment! http://bit.ly/cSHUui […]

  9. Debra Glass
    November 2, 2010 at 2:14 pm
    Reply

    I often name my characters before anything and let the plot revolve around the names. Often my character names determine the titles. Patience Hadley Mims in Having Patience and one of my faves, Jack Badcock in Badcock!

  10. Paula Graves
    November 2, 2010 at 2:19 pm
    Reply

    Debra, that might be the best character name EVAH. 😉

    Bible names are big down here in the deep south, so they feel very authentic to me for characters who were born here and raised here.

    I also look for names that are unusual but authentic. I have a Georgia boy hero in the book I’m writing right now. His name is Harlan McClain, and I named him Harlan for a couple of reasons–after Harlan, Kentucky, which is in the heart of rural southern coal mining country, and after my cousin Harlan, who’s a rural southern preacher. I always thought that Harlan was a very southern name, and so my very southern hero from Georgia needed just that kind of name.

  11. Carla Swafford
    November 2, 2010 at 7:07 pm
    Reply

    I have Sherrilyn Kenyon’s character naming book and use it a lot. But I find myself going to the internet and looking up baby names. On thinking about it, I go for good old standards like Mary, Olivia and Jane for the girls. The boys I usually have others call him by his last name or a nickname. If you think about, guys love to call each other nicknames. When you’re limited in real life with Michael, Josh, and Jeremy, and there are dozens around you with those names, you find something that sticks out. In the dept where my husband works, there are four Steve’s. Thus my husband’s nickname at work is Evil. I did marry a bad boy.

  12. Heather
    November 2, 2010 at 7:12 pm
    Reply

    Great post! My problem is finding great surnames. For some reason, Jones and Smith are the only surnames that pop into my head when I go down the naming avenue.

  13. Paula Graves
    November 3, 2010 at 6:24 am
    Reply

    Heather, try thumbing through the phone directory. Seriously. You’ll discover interesting surnames that way.

  14. Chris Bailey
    November 3, 2010 at 8:42 am
    Reply

    Paula,
    Naming characters is one of my favorite parts! I recently ran into a little trouble with trying to give a couple of my characters historically prominent names, and discovered in my crit group that I’d chosen a couple that caused readers to stumble. So I’m going back to one of my favorite web sites to scan for more historically prominent names suited to my story locale: http://www.findagrave.com!
    Chris

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