Naming Characters

How does a writer choose names for their characters? I find naming characters challenging and frustrating.

Names reflect the times. When choosing the name Hazel for the main character in “Broken Promises”, I needed a name from around 1900 as the character was named after her great aunt, but not embarrassing in 2000.

cover for Broken Promises, Hazel Whitmore #1 by Karen GoatKeeper

Names reflect national and regional origins and religions. Spellings can differ for names too. When most people were illiterate in the rural United States, people spelled names the way they said them.

Sometimes names are chosen to suit the novel as I did in “Capri Capers”. Harriet’s last name Zeigenhirt is German for goat. As the novel was pure escapist, the villain’s names reflected their status: Rogue, Rascal and Lawless. Even Dan Janus got into this as Janus was the two faced Roman god.

cover for Capri Capers by Karen GoatKeeper

There are many sources for names both online and in print. I’ve used both. When I’m at home and not able to get online, I find the phone book, old school yearbooks, membership lists and movie credits places to find inspiration.

Naming characters takes on even more challenge when the book is set in the future or involves aliens. The Planet Autumn series I’m working on presently is such a headache.

A fictional future Earth provides the backdrop. Much of this will never appear in the books, yet it is vital to the plot. It also affects names.

More of the names presently being used will probably change to be more reflective of a time when space travel is possible. Yet other names will still reflect nationalities and religions, even though these are not part of the books.

In “The Carduan Chronicles”, presently in hiatus, the characters are aliens. Normal Earth names wouldn’t work. Some writers may find this easy. I do not.

Naming characters from the planet Arkosa, now residents of Cardua, forced me to get really creative. I got out my botany books and geology books. A little adaptation and I had my alien cast of characters.

The next challenge is being able to pronounce them easily.