Sometimes the hardest part of writing a book is coming up with all of the names. Character names, town names, store names. I wanted to write a blog post about how I go about this process, but after thinking about it, I realized I have no scientific method for naming. As so many creative endeavors go, it’s all just stuff I think up randomly.
So here’s your advice: There is no advice!
(Kidding, sort of.)
I still remember writing my first book, Motocross Me, in 2008. The main character’s name, Hana, kind of came to me instantly, so I went with it. As for the other main character names, here was my thought process:
Hana’s last name Fisher: from Jenna Fisher, the actress who plays Pam in The Office, which was a totally relevant show back in 2008.
Jim Fisher: Jim, from The Office
Molly Fisher: Since she was a kind, loving, caring, amazing motherly figure, I named her after Molly Weasley. (I don’t do this anymore, btw, otherwise all characters would be HP names.)
Ash: He’s the love interest and I thought it was a sexy name, so that one’s obvious.
Ryan: I chose the name Ryan because it sounded like a jerk’s name. (Sorry to any real Ryan’s out there, I bet you’re probably not really a jerk.)
Shelby: I kid you not, I was looking around the room trying to think of a name and saw a Shelby Mustang on the calendar on the wall. Boom, name chosen.
See? Not very scientific. Now that I have a dozen or so novels and twice as many short stories under my belt, I can no longer choose names based off TV shows I like, or else all my characters would be named after the Belcher family from Bob’s Burgers. Now I go about my naming process in a few ways.
First names ALWAYS have to be something I like. Something that sounds good. I can go through a ton of names in my head, but until one just snaps into place and fits with the story, I won’t choose it. Sometimes I hear names in real life that sound cool as hell, and so I’ll save them in my head in order to one day write a story about a character with that name. I’m not listing them here because I’m secretive and mean.
Last names . . . well, I usually cheat and find something on here. I like this website because it’s not full of ads and popups and crap like those baby naming websites that show up first in a Google search. It’s just a simple, very huge list of last names.
As for naming places, this is one of my favorites. A long time ago, I decided that I didn’t want to set my characters in REAL, real cities, because then I might get some of the facts wrong. Plus, it’s just more fun to invent my own places and smack them on the map wherever I see fit. However, because I’m a Texas girl, and most of my stories are set in the great Lone Star state, I like to pay some homage to the towns of old.
Texas Ghost towns < This is one of my FAVORITE websites ever. It’s a little historic record of towns that used to be towns in Texas but never survived. Some of them even have pictures of the remaining one room school house, or a solitary church that’s still standing.
Mixon, Texas from Motocross Me is a Texas ghost town and so is Peyton Colony, the town in the newest book I just finished writing. I think this is a really fun way to pay tribute to the past and give it new life in a fictional story.
When it comes to naming places, sometimes I make it easy and send my characters to Starbucks. Other times, like when my characters are personally working somewhere, I like to invent the place so as not to write about working at a real chain. In Somewhere Only We Know, Sadie works at a pizza shop called Magic Mark’s Pizza. This is a direct rip off of the real place Simple Simon’s Pizza, the uber-delicious pizza joint I worked at in high school. I liked the fake Magic Mark’s so much, that I often have my characters ordering pizza from there in every book I write.
What can I say? I also love pizza.
There’s one final technique I use to name characters, specifically, those NPCs you need to name quickly and won’t ever see again. Like when your characters walk into a hotel and have a one time conversation with the concierge, whose name-tag says his name is:
QUICK! YOU NEED A NAME FOR HIM!
I usually look up from the computer, call to a family member who is in the vicinity and say, “Quick, I need a name for a guy who works at a hotel.” Whatever response I get, is the name I use. If the husband is at work and the kid is at school and my dog isn’t answering, I usually Google search a random name, but that’s not as fun.
So how do you name your characters? Do you have any hard and fast rules or do you just wing it? Let me know in the comments!