Where do you get the names for your characters?

Most of the characters in Daughter Am I are aged gangsters, and they kept the monikers they used when they were young. I patterned my gangsters after those in the 1930s movies, though in the book they didn’t actually reach their prime until the 1950s or even 60s. Some names I stole, like Kid Rags, which was the name of a 1900s gangster in Hell’s Kitchen, and others were inevitable, like the morbid wheelman named Happy.

Bob Stark in More Deaths Than One was so named because he was supposed to seem an “everyman,” hence the common first name. He was also supposed to be stark of speech and action, and so the surname was a reminder to make sure he didn’t get too flowery. Despite his name, Bob Stark turned out to be rather wordy at times and not the silent, uncommunicative loner I had planned.

Greg Pullman in A Spark of Heavenly Fire was named after Bill Pullman in While You Were Sleeping to remind me that Greg was good-looking and very nice.

Rena in Light Bringer was so named because it was short for Ahkrena, which was a word I created to be the name of an unknown ancient race. When the character was small and someone asked her name, all she could say was Rena. Her name was supposed to be a clue to her identity after her research uncovered stories of the Ahkrena, but when I discovered Sumerian creation myths, the book went a different direction. I got rid of Ahkrena, but kept Rena, since by then the character and her name had become intertwined

Here are some responses from other authors about how they named their characters. The comments are taken from interviews posted at Pat Bertram Introduces . . .

From an interview with Donna Small, Author of “Just Between Friends”

Names for characters are tough for me. I will write chapters using ‘ajdfjkd’ instead of names. I just have a hard time finding the right one for the character since I’m a huge believer in your name being having an impact on who you become. Both of my daughters play sports so I keep the rosters from their events and refer to them for different and unique names that will fit my characters. I also Google a lot!

From an interview with John Stack, author of “Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo”

Names are fun and usually mean something special. I use kids that I have taught, daughters, grandsons, and friends. Family can be cool because you can often capture their personality in the character and no one really gets offended.

From an interview with Smith Hagaman, Author of “Off the Chart”

You’ve heard the old story. Adam was naming the animals. God said, “What will you call that one?” Adam said, “Hippopotamus.” God said, “Well, you can call it anything you want to, but why Hippopotamus?” Adam looked at him puzzled, “Because it looks like a hippopotamus!” That’s how I get my names.

What about you? Where do you get the names for your characters?  (Or your children or your pets or your plants.)

(If you’d like me to interview you, please check out my author questionnaire http://patbertram.wordpress.com/author-questionnaire/ and follow the instruction.)


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

2 Responses to “Where do you get the names for your characters?”

  1. rami ungar the writer Says:

    Truth be told, most times the names just come to me. Something in my subconscious just makes these names come to these characters, and often times there’s a meaning to the names that I’m unaware of that I think makes so much sense. For example, Zahara from Reborn City’s name mean light, and she’s definitely a source of light for the characters. That’s how it is most of the time.

  2. ROD MARSDEN Says:

    I’ve made a conscious effort over the past decade to give my characters names that are in some way connected to their personalities. This was something Charles Dickens did and its not a bad idea. Right now I’m working on the first drawft of a novel and the main character’s nane is Sam bluit. He has been a self confessed failure in life up until the start of the book si Bluit is a kind of pigeon English for blew it. The book is about this second chance he is given and how that turns out.

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