What’s In A Name?

I’ve been listening to the audio books of “The Bride Quartet” by Nora Roberts over the last couple of days. It’s been a long time since La Nora has written a series of straight-up contemporary romances without mystery, suspense, or woo-woo stuff, so I was listening to learn.

I have various reactions to the books themselves, but what really blew me away were the number of named characters. Not only do we have the four female leads and the four male heroes, not only do we have important secondary characters, but we have a positive plethora of brides, grooms, wedding party members, and others who show up throughout the four books as minor characters. The number of names needed for this series dazzled me.

Naming characters is one of the hardest things I have to do when I’m writing a story. I know you find this hard to believe, because I’ve already demonstrated my expertise in coming up with baby names. But naming a character is different. The name of a character can be a useful tool and a clue to personality. Finding one you’re comfortable with can be fraught with difficulty.

Not only does the character’s name have to fit, but there are other considerations you have to worry about in fiction. For example, do you know someone with that name? Will that person be offended if you give their name to a particular character? On the other hand, will they think it means more than it does? (especially in a romance novel – LOL)

Does the name conjure up bad memories? Does your boss have that name? Is the name pronounceable? Will the readers stumble over it every time it shows up? Does something catch your attention and draw you away from the story? In my book, two of the male characters had last names that sounded very similar. It caught my attention when I was reading, so I changed one of them.

Then there are all of the things names are shorthand for – like ethnicity, background, and age. Are the names you want to use stereotypes? Are they cliches? Are you using them as a way to get out of developing the character, as opposed to a signpost leading to that character?

In the “Bride Quartet” books, Nora uses the names of the minor characters to create brief images with the single stroke of a pen, like a line drawing. Not enough information to get confusing, but enough to create different personas for the brides and grooms trouping through the busy wedding business portrayed in the books. I can’t even imagine naming that many characters.

So, hats off to Nora Roberts. Again. I listen, I learn. And I’m reminded how much the character names help support the story.

I think my next couple will be named “Chip” and “Bitsy”.

Or not.



  1. The funny thing is, I don’t agonize over names that much, particularly not for regular people in contemporary settings. With the latest WIP, the heroine’s name came pretty quickly. I knew she was Hispanic. I wanted an easy to pronounce last name and a straightforward first name: Kelly Marquez. (Okay, I have no idea if Marquez [I speak Spanish] is easy to pronounce, but it’s not like her last name will come up that often, anyway.) I have a harder time with fantasy names, because they have to be pronounceable, and not sound utterly ridiculous. But usually, I fiddle around with syllables and once I come up with something, that’s that name.

    Plot, OTOH. Plot kicks my ass.

    • Betsy Horvath says

      @P. Kirby: I go around and around with the names for the main characters before I begin to write because I don’t like to change the names of the leads when I’m in process. But the secondary characters tend to be all over the place until I settle down. In my WIP one of the minor characters has three names in the first draft. I hope I remember who he is when I’m revising! LOL

      And plot? Oy. That’s all I’m saying on that one. LOL 😀

  2. I always think about the names of characters in books. I often wonder how did they come up with them. Never thought to much about having to take in to consideration those around you 🙂

    I will stick with my research papers where the participants use their own names LOL

Speak Your Mind


Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.