N is for Names… Not that I have any.

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I knew this had to be my topic, as soon as I saw some of the other posts people are doing on the topic.

Names are a special kind of torment for me. I will fixate on just about any kind of name. I can’t name a minor character, much less a book, without obsessing over the implications and cultural details of whatever name is being considered. And, I’d like to know the character before I name him, so half the time, I just start writing, and figure the name will come later.

And yes, I use “placeholder” names. They all begin with tk (to make them easy to search and replace) and then a description of the character by role. MC. MCF(female). MCM(male.)And they get replaced when they get replaced. I used to put in silly names, but that’s how you wind up with a twelve-year-old named Herkimer, and by golly, those names stick. Herkimer refuses to give up and just be Jason.

Some of my names… particularly for very minor characters… have meanings. I like perfect participles, and I like names that help me keep track of the character’s role. Oh, yes. That’s the prostitute from chapter eight.

I wouldn’t give all the names in my books to flesh-and-blood children. And if someone else does… It’s probably a measure of success, when someone tells you they named their kid after your character, and then demands that you pay to change the name… Isn’t it?


  1. Reply

    My names often have meanings and connections too. I have used placeholders, but I have to have something to start writing, but the name may change after I start writing.

    I have a character that insists on being called Pitch. I told him that is not really a name. He told me there was a reason his name being Pitch,but my muse is very closed mouth about it for awhile. Turns out the character has a psychic gift related to the name.

    I wanted the name Jack with an Irish last name connection. We, muse and I, finally settled on Jackie Pitch O’Shaugnessy. Muse and I also bump heads about casting for this character too for a bit.

    What fun!

  2. Eva


    I rarely use placeholder names. Like you, I find that characters want to keep them, and then I’m in trouble. To me, renaming a character rarely works! For what it’s worth, I absolutely love Herkimer too. *L*
    And see, I don’t want to give people names with a meaning – not, at least, the “cheating” names that tell you what that character is. Unless the name was given to somebody as a nickname, how could the parents have known? I dislike them, and it’s a minus for the book when reading anything but a children’s book (and no, I didn’t like it in Harry Potter either). Of course, it’s quite different with adult nicknames which can be sometimes cruel, and mistaken, but always carry a story with them.

    • Reply

      Considering that my parents gave me a name that means “ray of light” I guess they don’t know, or maybe, they just have a sense of humor.

  3. Reply

    I struggle with names on occasion. I ended up getting a little notebook and jotting down names from people I meet, obituaries, and police logs. I’ve also learned to research names that I think I “created” because it has turned out that they were actual names from other cultures.

  4. Reply

    Yep names are a drawback, I still haven’t finished some writing because I didn’t warm to the main character after letting a friend name her, silly eh

    • Reply

      I can absolutely see not warming to a character after somebody else named her–even if there’s nothing inherently wrong with the name, itself!

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