Naming Names

I’m completely negligent in naming characters. I just… uhm… don’t do it until the bitter end, and even then, I’m never happy about it. I have a whole manuscript in which the character’s names are TKMC, TKvillain. Tksomebodyorother. I intended to fill in real names at the end, but the end never came on that one.

My first manuscript was a delightful mess of names chosen on statistics. Want the serial killer to remind readers of someone they know? Well, why not pick from the list of most-used names for the guy’s decade of birth? Hello, Joe Smith!

I have a fixation with names in real life. If I ever had a kid, we’d probably just call them by the last 4 digits of their social security number until they’re old enough to decide for themselves.

So, I ran into the first names I really remember in terms of culture and circumstance about the same time. The first was a friend who was named after her father and her mother. In the sense of her name was (Father’s Name)(Mother’s name) no spaces. Now, there’s a paradigm. On the one hand, you have the “My kid is going to know who her parents are” philosophy, which does not come from stable cultures and stable homes. And on the other? Well, I never knew anyone who was named after their mother, before. I knew plenty of thirds and fourths, and more juniors than you could shake a stick at, but none of them were named after a woman.

About the same time… maybe just a little later… I ran into a girl who was allowed to choose her own name.  It was a legal name change. You see… she was one of those little girls who was named after her father. The feminine version of his name. And unfortunately, he committed a few crimes, gained notoriety, and ultimately was committed to the state hospital with no expectation of ever being released. Well, you know grade school kids are gonna mention it, if a classmate is named Tedda Bundy or Charlene Manson.

Culture plays a role in this. There are very few Amish kids, for instance, who are named Stargate Warhammer.

As does social support structure. Yup. Your friends and family have opinions. And the more important your family and friends are to you, the more likely you are to listen to them. On the other end of it, we have the people who don’t care that their grandmother can’t pronounce the new baby’s name, or who simply don’t care. I’ve run into people who have completely refused to tell anyone their baby-names in advance for fear of feedback.

I happen to think social support structure is important. My family’s naming structure? (Well, for boys, anyway.) The first name is whatever you want, but the middle names are the two grandfathers. I also note the number of kids named Stargate Warhammer who wind up on missing posters or in foster care.

And age. Not many 30 year olds are naming their kids Justin Bieber Smith, and not many 15 year olds are naming their kids Elvis.

The perfect name for a human being is something you can envision on a business card, or an office door. Would you turn around and walk back out, if that surgeon were named Stargate Warhammer Smith IV? Okay. New name. And it should travel well. If it’s a name in the United States, but a graphic sex act in 23% of the non-English Speaking world, you might want to change. And yes, you should take your free babysitters‘ support structure’s opinions into account.

The perfect name for a fictional character? Well, aside from having a character who is actually, literally, named after a graphic sex act. (Do NOT name your kids after my characters, people) I think Stargate Warhammer is a pretty good choice.


  1. Reply

    Very funny post! Character names seem to come to me at completely random times. Sometimes I’ll go through a whole draft without naming someone, other times they’ll drop into my lap fully formed (often when out walking the dogs, so not literally into my lap in that case). Writing sci-fi, I like inventing completely unique names too, to make them stand out.

  2. Reply

    I once heard a comedian riff on how to name your kid. Go to your back door, yell the name out a dozen times. If it still sounds good after that, then you’ve found the name. 🙂

    I’ve found that some characters I write have to have names when I start as it is a part of who they are. Others have changed half way through the story.

    I’ve also made a habit of looking at signs when I travel. Town names, billboards, street names; you never know where you’ll find a good name.

    • Reply

      And risk having the neighbors steal my perfect baby name? I’d have a whole street full of Stargate Warhammers!

  3. Reply

    I’ve always liked Deodar for a boy (means God-tree) and Acacia (type of tree) for a girl. I think they’d also suit nonbinary types.

    As for character names, whoof, that’s its own whole can of invent-a-cultural-linguistic-soil-and-its-native-worms, isn’t it?

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