What's in a name? Part Two: My Process

Yesterday I talked about the importance of names, today I want to tell you a bit about my naming process.

When I'm choosing names I like to get a feel for the character first. What are they like? What are their parents like? If their parents are traditionalists maybe they named their daughter something like Elizabeth but the daughter is so funky that it doesn't suit her at all. So she insists on going by Eliza (or Elly or Liza, etc). Maybe it drives the parents crazy and they insist on calling her by her full name all the time.

Now that I have a feel for the character and know what her parents are like I "see" images that reflect her personality. It's kind of hard to explain but I'll give an example.

Let's say I want to name a character something that brings to mind the midnight sky, white lace, libraries with old musky books, and a still and peaceful pond reflecting the moon. My first thoughts are usually quite literal (Indigo, Lacey, River, Willow) and unless one is completely perfect I throw those right out. My next ideas often fit into one category but don't match the rest. Cecily reminds me of lace but not the night sky, more like the sunshine in early morning. So out Cecily goes.

After a bit of brainstorming I come up with a list. It might look something like this:

I'll slowly narrow down the list. Not Audrey or Norah or Sophia because they aren't serene enough. Isadora is too clunky and I don't like any of the nicknames. So I'm down to Miranda (nicknamed Mira) and Celia. Interestingly they're both Shakespearean names. Probably because they remind me of old books.  I might be able to allude to their characters, or make small parallels.

I look up meaning and origins of these names on Behind the Name.  Behind the Name is the absolute best site for accuracy in meaning and origin.  Miranda means "admirable" and Celia either means "heaven" or "blind." I know right now I want to use Celia because the character is blind to what's going on around her. Its perfect.

If you still don't know check out the ratings and comments sections on each name, other people's thoughts will help you decide which is more fitting.  My second favorite naming website is Nameberry, they have wonderful comments for each name.  For example; Celia- "splendidly sleek and feminine, is a name that was scattered throughout Shakespeare and other Elizabethan literature, but still manages to feel totally modern."

If you need help with last names try Behind the Name: Surnames.  It lists meaning and origin.  It's a life saver. 

Happy Naming!


  1. ohh!!! I love going back and figuring out how I named my characters! They're so frustrating sometimes! I know Barren had so many different names! It was so hard to find one...but one day, he just told me his name. lol. And Kiera I found on a website--meaning dark in Gaelic, if I remember correctly. Some I got from history class, others I scribbled down words and made names. It's so much fun!! Also, if you're making up a world, looking up words that are relevant to your book in another language is pretty awesome too!

  2. I love your process! Thanks for the links. I might rethink a few of my characters' names when I'm done with the first draft of my WIP, once I know them better.


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